BENTON HARBOR — Countryside Academy and other charter schools in Michigan are feeling cheated following Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s line-item veto of an increase in their per pupil funding, that did go to students in traditional schools.
“All Michigan students should receive the same per-pupil funding amount, no matter what schools they choose to attend,” said Countryside Academy Board President George McManus in a news release, after the board on Monday passed a “Fairness First” resolution assailing the decision. “To suggest otherwise is a violation of all we believe as a society. We are a nation that prizes equality, freedom and opportunity. To create institutional inequity through this kind of budget policy is harmful and wrong.”
The vetoes came as part of a budget impasse between the newly elected Democratic governor and the Republican-dominated Legislature. Lawmakers delivered a $55 billion budget to Whitmer on Oct. 1, who called the plan “a mess” and struck out 147 items totaling almost $1 billion in spending.
The governor and GOP leaders are also at odds over Whitmer’s proposal to raise the gas tax 45 cents to pay for road repairs.
The veto of the charter school increase adds up to $35 million in savings. Traditional schools will see a $120 to $240 per pupil bump in funding.
Sarah Brookshire, head administrator for the K-12 school that enrolls around 780 students, said the hold-up in funding adds up to $180,000. This was money that Countryside, which passed its budget four months ago, was counting on, Brookshire said, as costs for electricity and other needs spike.
The board’s resolution warns of budget cuts “that will be harmful to our students and teachers.”
McManus said they “budgeted conservatively” for this year, and he doesn’t expect major cuts right away. But the charter schools will lose ground if the funding isn’t restored, he said.
Supplemental bills have been submitted to bring back some of the vetoed items, including $13 million for sheriffs’ secondary road patrols, but the governor’s recommendations do not include the charter school funding. And all require agreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office.
The Countryside board, in its resolution, called the charter school funding decision “political in nature.”
McManus said he believes that the schools are caught in the logjam over the road funding issue, turning the students into “political pawns. I think it was a poor political move on her part. It’s stupid.”
The Michigan Charter School Association said in a letter that they are being held “hostage. ... We’re caught smack dab in the middle: one of the many innocent bystanders paying the price of this waiting game.”
Charter schools already get less financial support than traditional schools, Brookshire said. They don’t receive property tax revenue, and must pay for their buildings out of their state aid.
At the same time, charter schools are subject to the same oversight and educational standards as traditional schools, which she said many people don’t realize.
Brookshire pointed out that 60 percent of charter school students are minorities, compared to 34 percent in traditional schools.
She said she has spoken to state Sen. Kim LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township, and state Rep. Pauline Wendzel, R-Watervliet, who said they are in favor of restoring the charter school funding, “but I don’t know if they’re doing anything about it.”
In the end, it comes down to the question of fairness, the administrator maintained.
“How are the kids in traditional classrooms any different than the other kids in charter school classrooms in Berrien County?” she questioned. “If anything, they are more at-need.”
Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak