Conference Committees Pass MCC-Priority Education & Safety Proposals
The 2016–2017 state budget process is drawing closer to its completion. At this point, lawmakers from both the House and Senate have been meeting in conference committees to reconcile differences between their respective state department budgets. A conference committee consists of three members from each chamber. After conference committees agree to changes, the House and Senate will approve a final department budget and send it to Governor Snyder for his consideration. The paragraphs below outline several of the priority budget items in which MCC staff has been engaged. A few items in the Department of Health and Human Services budget proposal still await consideration but are expected to be voted out next week.
- Non-Public Health and Safety Mandate Funding: The School Aid Conference Committee approved $2.5 million to help non-public schools carry out some 44 health, safety, and welfare mandates required by the State of Michigan. These mandates include conducting fire drills, performing criminal background checks, and maintaining immunization records. Funding is already provided to public schools to meet these requirements. MCC is pleased to see this funding included as a matter of fairness to keep all Michigan’s kids healthy and safe. Thank you to the CAN members who took action in support of this budget item last week, which helped to demonstrate to Michigan lawmakers that the policy is important to students and families across the state.
- School Safety Grant Included in Michigan State Police Budget: In the 2014–2015 state budget, public school districts, non-public schools, and sheriff’s departments had the opportunity to apply for a grant aimed at improving safety and security of schools and students. 56 public school districts, 15 non-public schools, 11 charter schools, and 5 sheriff’s departments were awarded $4 million in 2015. The grant program is again included in the proposed 2016–2017 Department of State Police budget, and this time is only available for public and non-public schools. The State Police Conference Committee agreed to include $2 million for this purpose.
- Funding for Water Testing Included in Department of Education Budget: The water crisis in Flint has brought attention to the issue of lead in aging pipes and plumbing fixtures. As a result, many schools around the state have begun voluntarily testing their systems for lead. To help these schools, the Michigan Department of Education budget includes $4.5 million in funding, with a cap of $950 per building. All school buildings, public and non-public, may receive reimbursement for costs of the voluntary testing, fixture replacement, filter purchases, and plumbing assessments from July 2016 to September 2017.
- Higher Education Student Financial Aid Increases Emerge from Conference Committees: Other areas of the budget that were approved by the conference committees include funding for the Michigan Tuition Grant Program, the Tuition Incentive Program, and dual enrollment. The Michigan Tuition Grant Program allows eligible low-income students to receive financial aid to attend one of Michigan’s independent colleges or universities. This year’s budget increases the program by $986,000 to a total of $35 million, with each institution capped at $3.2 million. The Tuition Incentive Program incentivizes completion of high school by providing Medicaid-eligible students with tuition assistance for the first two years of college. The budget increases funding for the program by $4.5 million, based on extra available Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding, to a total of $53.0 million. Finally, dual enrollment allows non-public school students to take community college or university classes for credit while still in high school. The conference committee has funded dual enrollment to $1.5 million for the upcoming year.
With a completion of the state budget, which should take place in the next week or two, state lawmakers will then go on a summer recess primarily to spend time in their districts and to campaign for this year’s elections.
New Report Highlights Non-Public Schools in Michigan
The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children and as such have the responsibility to choose the educational setting that best fits their children. A new report from the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy provides insight into Michigan’s over 600 non-public schools, which enrolled more than 113,000 students during the 2014–2015 school year. These schools, which average a 14-to-1 student to teacher ratio, provide significant savings to taxpayers. The state annually spends a minimum $750 million less than it would if all students were enrolled in the public school system. The survey also indicated that private schools have “immediate capacity” to serve more students. Additionally, the report mentions that one out of three non-public schools provides financial assistance to families, and a little more than one third of students receive some form of tuition assistance. Click here to read more from the report.
House Approves Domestic Violence Cell Phone Bills With Wide Bipartisan Support
Last week, MCC mentioned two bills allowing victims of domestic abuse to legally separate from a cell phone plan that is in their abuser’s name. This legislation is important because abusers have used information from their victims’ cell phones to track them, which could put them in further danger. House Bills 5641–5642, sponsored by Representatives Tom Barrett (R-Potterville) and Vanessa Guerra (D-Bridgeport), would allow a victim to request a court order to transfer their phone number and service, when applying for Personal Protection Order (PPO). The House voted this week in support of the measures by a 107–1 bipartisan vote.
Bills Require Reasonable Efforts to Keep Siblings Together in Foster Placements
This week, the Michigan Legislature considered two bills that would require agencies to make reasonable efforts to keep siblings together in the same foster placement. If joint placement is not possible, the bills would require visits between the siblings, unless this would be contrary to the children’s safety or well-being. HB 5521, sponsored by Representative Klint Kesto (R-Walled Lake), passed the House by a 108–1 vote, and this week, passed the Senate by a 36–0 vote. SB 483, sponsored by Senator Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge), had passed the Senate previously by a 37–0 vote and the House this week by a 108–0 vote. Both bills will soon be sent to the governor for his consideration.
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