Panel scales back Snyder’s ‘Marshall Plan’ for talent

April 11, 2018

Lansing — The House education budget committee on Tuesday scaled back Gov. Rick Snyder’s “Marshall Plan for Talent” as Republican lawmakers trimmed $25 million in proposed funding for new or expanded programs.

A budget bill that advanced Tuesday includes roughly $60.5 million in funding for what the GOP governor has billed as a $100 million plan to help close the “talent gap” and prepare young people for high-paying, in-demand technology jobs of the future that may not necessarily require a four-year university degree.

The panel gave Snyder half of the $20 million he had requested for a scholarship and stipend program for low-income residents seeking a degree or work credential. It also cut $4 million in potential funding for competitive grants to public universities, $10.1 million for school districts to hire career navigators, $5.5 million for an awareness campaign and $1.5 million for a technology teacher certificate program.

“We’ll see where we go, but I’m going to continue to make the argument that while it might be a valid plan, I think it’s kind of a day late,” said Rep. Tim Kelly, a Saginaw Township Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 Education.

After teasing the talent plan for months, Snyder formally announced details of initiative in late February. The term-limited governor has called it his top priority during his final year in office.

“If it had come two, three or four years ago, I think it’d probably perhaps have a little more legs,” Kelly said, calling it “an ambitious thing to do in the last year of a last term” and a “heavy lift” for a Legislature also facing significant turnover in 2019.

The early House budget, opposed by Democrats but now heading to the full appropriations committee, includes Marshall Plan funding to boost an existing career and technical education skilled trades initiative, expand K-12 competency programs for high-demand fields and create a new Innovative Educator Corps for teacher training.

Snyder’s talent plan is worth discussing, Kelly told reporters. “But having said that, if you’re basically just throwing more money at the kind of same delivery model, I don’t know what you’re going to get different from it,” he added.

A separate Senate subcommittee budget bill did not address the Marshall Plan, which is expected to generate continued debate as Snyder and lawmakers work to finalize a 2019 spending plan by early summer.

“We’ll work with our legislative partners and hopefully see it in the final version,” said Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton.

The House budget committee signed off on Snyder’s $312 million plan to boost K-12 school spending by $120 to $240 per student. Lower-funded districts receiving the larger increase.

But for the second straight year, GOP lawmakers rejected Snyder’s proposal to pay for part of the foundation allowance increase by cutting funding for cyber charter schools and shared-time education programs.

The House budget, like a separate Senate version, would maintain full funding for cybers. Snyder proposed funding at 75 percent of traditional schools, a change that would save the state $25 million.

Snyder argues cyber schools should receive reduced funding because they “have lower facility, maintenance and transportation costs than brick and mortar schools,” according to an administration briefing.

Cutting funding 25 percent would put Michigan in line with the cyber school funding policies in nearby states such as Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin that fund cybers at a lower rate than traditional schools, according to the administration.

But Kelly opposes the idea.

“This is still about funding kids, not schools,” he said. “And kids shouldn’t be dinged by the decisions they make on where they want to go to school.”

Snyder championed cyber school expansion six years ago, and enrollment has grown dramatically under his tenure as more schools opened. State payments have nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018.

Michigan now has 14 charter cyber schools that provide students with full-time, online learning. They are set to receive more than $93 million in state funding this year to educate 12,200 students.

Rep. Kristy Pagan, a Canton Township Democrat and vice chair for the House appropriations subcommittee, was unsuccessful in arguing for Snyder’s cyber school aid reduction.

“The cost of actually running these schools is significantly less than our traditional public schools, even our public school academies,” Pagan said. “I personally would like to see it even lower.”

The House budget would also maintain the current funding scheme for shared-time instruction. The program allows non-public or home-schooled students to enroll in nonessential or elective courses at a public school and reimburses the school for their instruction.

The governor’s budget proposed capping the number of pupils eligible for reimbursement at 5 percent of the district’s per pupil membership and exclude kindergarten students from reimbursement eligibility, saving nearly $68 million.

“Since shared time reimbursements are only paid for noncore, nonessential, elective courses, this program diverts resources from core instruction that improves student academic outcomes,” the Snyder administration said in a budget briefing.

Shared-time enrollment has nearly tripled since 2012, and more than 102,000 non-public schools enrolled in a public school program this year. Kelly opposed the proposed change.

A separate Senate budget bill proposes a modest cut for shared-time programs. It would eliminate reimbursement for kindergarten classes and cap the annual growth in shared-time teachers, reducing state funding by $15.7 million next year instead of the $67.9 million cut proposed by the governor.

“It’s a good program. It’s just that we have to be able to afford it,” said Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, who chairs the Senate subcommittee.