by Scott McClallen
The GOP-led Michigan Legislature failed to override Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto of $155 million to help struggling youngsters recover from COVID-19 learning loss.
The vote was 54-54. A two-thirds majority vote is required to override a Whitmer’s line-item veto of a designation in House Bill 4411 that would have disbursed $155 million to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) to start a grant program for students who have fallen behind.
The now-stricken bill language would have allowed GVSU to spend up to $1,000 per child on tutoring services, instruction materials or specialized summer learning.
Eligible children would have had to be enrolled in kindergarten through 5th grade, be less than proficient in reading based on available assessment data, and the child would have had to applied for a reading scholarship through the grant program.
The veto followed the governor signing a bipartisan $17 billion education plan to eliminate the funding gap between districts at the minimum and maximum foundation allowances – a goal for nearly three decades.
The budget includes $723 million to eliminate the gap between the minimum and maximum foundation allowance by setting both at $8,700 per pupil, an increase of $589 per pupil from the current year minimum amount, and an increase of $171 per pupil from the current year target amount. Intermediate school districts will receive a 4% operational funding increase.
Whitmer’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. Whitmer wrote in her veto letter the bill “makes historic investments in Michigan’s kids without raising taxes” but gave no reason for slashing $155 million to fund COVID-19 learning loss recovery for low-income students, children with disabilities, and foster kids.
Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Oak Park, defended the veto, saying the program was unproven.
“I cannot think of a more fiscally irresponsible way to spend taxpayer dollars than by giving away $155 million to GVSU to distribute as vouchers, without any oversight from the state,” Weiss said on the House floor.
Rep. Brad Paquette, R-Niles, a former teacher, criticized the veto, saying it was derived from the idea that only traditional schools can teach children.
“In an era of much learning loss, the nobility in our education world needs a voucher for common sense,” Paquette said on the floor. “They should cash it in to recognize that those who oppose such need-derived scholarships for recuperating after learning loss must be seen for who they are: defenders of the status quo, with an over-reliance on jargon that is fueled by negative connotations that often become the entire substance of their opposition.”
Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) Executive Director Beth DeShone criticized Democrats for voting against the override for a bill they previously supported.
“Refusal to defend struggling readers, to stop the governor from slashing $155 million in education funding, or to stand up for their own legislative records, is an act of political cowardice,” DeShone said in a statement.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.