Tutoring, literacy, and preschool: Whitmer K-12 budget centers on proposals with bipartisan support

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks into a microphone at a podium with the words MI kids back on track in front of a united states flag as a crowd looks on.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to revive her MI Kids Back on Track tutoring proposal as part of the school aid budget scheduled to be unveiled on Wednesday. (State of Michigan)

Literacy and tutoring are two things that Michigan Republicans and Democrats agree are important. And it’s probably no coincidence that they’re both near the top of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s education agenda. 

Emerging details from the school aid budget that Whitmer will present Wednesday show that she is prioritizing areas nearly everyone supports, even if they can’t agree on the details. 

That could help her conserve her political capital for partisan fights later. 

Republicans are likely to push back hard against some of Whitmer’s non-budgetary priorities, including strengthening gun control, requiring more financial transparency from charter schools, codifying protections for LGBTQ people, and repealing the state’s right-to-work law.

With those fights on the horizon, Whitmer is being more cautious on the school budget, said Sarah Reckhow, associate professor of political science at Michigan State University.

“The proposals that have been coming out are not likely to raise a lot of pushback,” Reckhow said. “They would fall into the bread-and-butter categories. They’re programs that are pretty popular, things for kids that Democrats usually support and Republicans probably support, too.”

Still, Whitmer could face opposition, particularly over her tutoring program. Republicans and conservative education advocates are still angry about her 2021 veto of a GOP bill to provide state-funded scholarships for private tutoring.

State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh, a Democrat, said that she hasn’t yet seen the governor’s budget but that she supports proposals to offer universal preschool, provide one-on-one tutoring, and prepare parents to help children learn to read. 

“We need to make sure the necessary budget is there for there to be healthy school learning environments,” she said.

Pugh said she would also like to see teacher retention bonuses like the ones Whitmer proposed last year, but Whitmer’s office said they won’t be part of this year’s budget.

Pugh said she hopes Whitmer’s budget will at least provide enough money for districts to provide their own teacher bonuses if they choose to, as some already do.

“They should be strongly encouraged” to provide bonuses to educators, she said.

The state board has no budgetary authority but can make spending recommendations.

Whitmer’s school funding priorities include the following, according to budget details shared with Chalkbeat Detroit, Bridge Michigan, the Detroit Free Press, and MLive:

The full school aid and general fund budgets are scheduled to be released at 11 a.m. Wednesday before the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. The budgets are expected to be posted online at about the same time.

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at tmauriello@chalkbeat.org.

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