HOLLAND — U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga is pushing for the federal government to allow Michigan to use its coronavirus federal relief dollars to cover a per-pupil funding gap, something targeted by the school aid budget agreed to by lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this year.
Huizenga, R-Zeeland, sent a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona Sept. 24 asking for the Department of Education allow Michigan to use money allocated in its fiscal year 2021-22 school aid budget to cover funding gaps between the state’s affluent districts and ones with higher poverty rates.
In the school aid budget signed by Whitmer in July, the state will use most of the relief dollars to send to districts with more students affected by poverty. Lawmakers also set aside about $362 million for districts with lower poverty rates to make sure no district received less than $1,093 per pupil through the ESSER III funding mechanism.
At the time, politicians from both major parties and education advocates applauded the budget for addressing funding disparities. But an interpretation from the federal government could jeopardize budgets for some districts.
According to the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, the state’s Department of Education was notified by the feds that the funding measure isn’t permitted under federal law, since coronavirus relief funds were targeted toward districts with more lower-income students.
In Huizenga’s letter, he argued the interpretation would cause districts in West Michigan would lose out on funding that administrators have already planned to have for 2021-22 school year.
“I write today to highlight a very serious shortcoming in the formula for the distribution of education relief funding,” Huizenga wrote. “Public education leaders in our state have repeatedly brought attention to the fact that the Title 1A formula being used to distribute funds have resulted in massive disparities between districts across Michigan.
“… It is critically important that all underserved and low-income communities across the state have access to resources to address pandemic-related costs. While districts with the highest number of disadvantaged students must be prioritized, Michigan’s equalization plan for their share of federal funding would help to increase the balance in resources provided for all school districts.
“As the Department of Education reviews Michigan’s plan for distributing federal funds, I urge you to allow the state to move forward with its equalization component.”
Cardona visited Michigan earlier in September to promote safely returning to in-person instruction amidst the coronavirus pandemic. According to educational news outlet Chalkbeat Detroit, the U.S. Department of Education is still reviewing Michigan’s plan.
A message seeking comment from the USED was not returned as of the Sentinel’s print deadline Wednesday afternoon.