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Michigan Legislature passes $6.6 B in federal virus aid

June 15, 2021 GMT

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate nearly $4.4 billion in federal COVID-19 aid to K-12 schools after Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration reached an agreement.

The supplemental budget bill — one of two to advance in the Legislature — would account for all but about $362 million in unallotted school funding from U.S. rescue packages approved in March and December.

The House, meanwhile, voted to release $2.2 billion in coronavirus aid designated for food and rental assistance, and local governments. Final legislative votes are expected Wednesday.

The action was a sign of progress weeks after Whitmer and GOP legislative leaders announced the framework of a deal to open budget talks following Republicans’ attempts to tie the allotment of some federal funding to curbs on her emergency pandemic powers. She had vetoed some proposed spending as a result. Negotiations continue over the 2021-22 budget and how to use billions in other virus funding.

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“I appreciate the movement and there is a lot more work to do,” state budget director Dave Massaron said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican, said the measures are time-sensitive because of federal deadlines to distribute aid.

“This is another significant step to get families, communities and students the help they need after an extremely difficult year and a half,” he said.

Under federal law, school districts and charter schools with higher numbers or portions of poor students will automatically get a large share of $4.2 billion. The Senate removed a House-passed provision that would have directed an additional $362 million to districts with higher percentages of children from middle-class and wealthy families — a bid to ensure all schools receive an increase of at least $1,093 per student regardless of the federal formula.

The status of that funding was not immediately clear, leaving roughly one-third of 537 traditional districts and about 20 of 275 charters in limbo. Nearly $180 million would go to private schools, as designated under federal law.

The K-12 Alliance of Michigan, which represents superintendents, said schools need lawmakers to quickly finalize the next school aid budget so they can adequately plan for the upcoming academic year.

Executive director Robert McCann said not including all federal dollars in the bill “means that many districts will receive little support from this package due to inequity in the formula the federal government used for the money allocated today. We’re hoping they rethink that and reinsert the equalization funding to ensure every school district receives these badly needed resources.”

Districts receiving $3.3 billion from the March rescue law must use at least 20% to address learning loss with interventions such as summer learning and afterschool programs.

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Follow David Eggert at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00