Committees Include Funding for Health, Welfare, and Safety Mandates for Non-Public Schools
This week, both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees approved funding in their 2016–2017 state budget recommendations to reimburse non-public schools for the completion of general health, safety, and welfare requirements from the State. Some of these requirements include fire and lockdown drills, background checks for staff and volunteers, and immunization record maintenance. Currently all schools must complete these requirements, but only public schools get reimbursed for these costs. This policy is a way for the state to ensure funding to all children, regardless of the type of school they attend, is distributed in an equitable manner. Under the leadership of Representatives Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw) and Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), the House Appropriations Committee included $1 million for this purpose. On the Senate side, thanks to an amendment from Senator David Hildenbrand (R-Lowell), the Appropriations Committee proposal approved $5 million for this purpose. Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) is thankful to these leaders and all who supported this important funding, and staff will continue to advocate for its inclusion in the final budget.
Budget Measures Impacting Education Funding Continue to Full House and Senate
In addition to the mandate funding mentioned above, the Michigan House and Senate considered a number of other budget items this week that would benefit schools and schoolchildren. MCC is especially thankful to Representatives Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw), Mike McCready (R-Birmingham), and Aaron Miller (R-Sturgis) in the House, and Senators Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell), Geoff Hansen (R-Hart), Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton), and Senator Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) in the Senate for their leadership in these budget areas. Here are those budget items of importance:
- Water Testing for Lead in Schools: reimburses public and non-public schools across the state, on a voluntary basis, for the cost of testing water for lead. The House Appropriations Committee has not yet taken up this proposal, but the subcommittee included $9 million in its Department of Environmental Quality proposal for this purpose. The Senate Appropriations Committee included $3.5 million in its Department of Education proposal, or up to $1,000 per school building.
- School Safety Grants: provides grant funding for schools to purchase equipment and/or technology to improve the safety and security of school buildings, students, and staff. In a previous version of the grant, schools could apply on their own or they could apply jointly with a sheriff’s department. The House Appropriations has not yet approved its proposal for this grant, but included $2 million in Subcommittee, with 80 percent of the funding dedicated to schools and 20 percent to sheriff’s departments. The Senate Appropriations Committee included $4 million that could be awarded only to schools.
- Tuition Grant Program: allows eligible low-income students to receive financial aid to attend one of Michigan’s independent colleges or universities. This program has successfully helped students for fifty years. This week, the House Appropriations Committee increased funding for the program by $1.2 million, bringing the total funding to $35.2 million. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the subcommittee’s recommendations that funding for the program increase by $748,800 to almost $34.8 million.
- Tuition Incentive Program: incentivizes completion of high school by providing Medicaid-eligible students with tuition assistance for the first two years of college. The program has existed for three decades. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees each added $2 million to the program, bringing the total funding to $50.5 million.
State Health and Human Services Budget Proposals Move Forward from Subcommittees
This week, the House and Senate Department of Health and Human Services Subcommittees each passed their respective state budget proposals for October 2016–September 2017. Both proposals now will receive consideration from the full Appropriations Committee in each chamber before the entire House and Senate can vote on the measures. MCC is thankful to the leadership of Representative Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker) and Senator Jim Marleau (R-Lake Orion) on these proposals, which include several key policies:
- The Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Program: provides support to women in crisis pregnancies and promotes alternatives to abortion. The House and Senate Subcommittees voted to provide $400,000 in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding to continue the program, which is now in its fourth budget year.
- The Children’s Clothing Allowance: helps low-income families purchase clothing for the school year. Both the House and Senate Subcommittees expanded the program to all school-age children that receive Family Independence Program (FIP) benefits, which allows 25,000 additional children to participate. Currently, the program receives $2.9 million total, with each child receiving $140/year. The House Subcommittee proposal awards a large increase to the program for a total of $4.8 million, and it raises the benefit for each child to $170/year. The Senate Subcommittee proposal increases funding for the program to $3.4 million, but it keeps the benefit per child at its current rate.
- Healthy Kids Dental Program: provides access to dental services to low-income children. The House and Senate Subcommittees approved $25.6 million in additional funding to expand Healthy Kids Dental to all school-age children in Kent, Oakland, and Wayne Counties. The total amount of the program for the upcoming budget year is currently $244.5 million. As a result of these proposals, children in all of Michigan’s 83 counties will be able to access dental care.
- Private Foster Care Agency Administrative Rates: provides per diem administrative rates for private foster care agencies, such as Catholic Charities. The House Subcommittee increases the base administrative rate for foster care services to not less than $40 per day and holds the counties harmless from funding this increase. The Senate Subcommittee maintains the base administrate rate for private child welfare agencies at $37 per day, unless the state pays 100 percent of the costs, which would then provide an $8 increase to $45 per day.
Other budget items that did not come out of committees this week will be considered next week, and further updates to members will be provided at that time.
Senate Unanimously Approves Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Package
The Catholic Church teaches that sexual assault and domestic violence fail “to treat a person as someone worthy of love,” and must be addressed (USCCB, When I Call for Help). This week, the Michigan Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan package of bills (HBs 4476–4481, 4788) regarding these issues. The measures would, among other aspects, revise existing law to better protect the privacy of victims, allow a Personal Protection Order (PPO) to include a pet, and increase penalties for those who assault a pregnant woman. The measures also protect survivors of sexual assault, when a pregnancy results, by allowing custody or parenting time of that child to be prohibited for the offending parent. MCC has supported many of these measures, which update and enhance existing laws to better protect victims and recognize the worth of all individuals. Several of the bills were modified in the Senate. Once the bills are concurred in by the House the package will go to the governor for his consideration.
State Board of Ed Drafts Guidelines for Transgender Students; Public Comment Period Open
In early February, the Michigan State Board of Education proposed draft voluntary recommendations for public schools regarding policies for transgender students. These recommendations would, among other aspects, suggest school staff refer to transgender students by their chosen names and corresponding pronouns, allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity, and let them participate in corresponding sports programs. Concerns have been raised about these guidelines and their impact on parental rights, as the policies remove parents from input on their child’s welfare. A school would not be allowed to tell parents, without student permission, if that student identifies at school with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. While all students deserve respect and support, policies must consider fairness, safety, privacy, and the rights of all parents and students. The Michigan Department of Education is requesting public comments [Link no longer available —Ed.] on the draft guidelines now through May 11, 2016. The suggested guidance from the Michigan Department of Education would only impact public schools. Educators in the non-public school community are discussing the matter and closely following any developments.
Flint Emergency Disaster Period Extended to August
This week, the Michigan House and Senate passed a concurrent resolution that allows for the State of Emergency declared in Genesee County and the City of Flint to be extended until August 2016. Senate Concurrent Resolution 28, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-Grand Haven), allows the county and city to continue to apply for and receive certain assistance from the federal and state government.
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