There’s no shortage of debate over Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s proposed education budget. Some Detroiters just want to know when it will end.
“We’ve been put on the back burner,” said America Yahya, 20, who attended charter schools in Detroit throughout her childhood.
She, like most everyone at a forum in Detroit on Monday about Whitmer’s budget, does not doubt for a minute that schools need more money.
The question that some in the audience were asking on Monday was more practical, if not easier to solve: What will it take?
For much of Yahya’s life, Michigan’s legislature has been controlled by a Republican party sharply opposed to the major increase in school spending that she — and many scholars and educators — believe is necessary.
The legislature sent $617 million to Detroit in 2016 to prevent the city district from going bankrupt, a controversial move that supporters hailed as a rescue, but which failed to win a single vote from a Detroit lawmaker.
For many, it was too little too late. Detroit still doesn’t have the $500 million it needs to fix its crumbling school buildings.
And school funding had already been stagnating for years, according to a study by David Arsen, an education professor at Michigan State University who specializes in finance and spoke on the panel Monday.
“The state hasn’t done its job,” Arsen said. “We have more at-risk kids in Michigan, but the funding hasn’t kept pace.”
Still, the election of Whitmer, a Democrat, gave Yahya a small measure of hope.
“It’s gonna take a minute [to fix school funding], and when I say a minute, I mean like five years,” she said, adding: “It needs to get done more quickly.”
A panel assembled by the education advocacy group 482Forward for the event focused on whether that is possible while Republicans still control the legislature.
They offered another small measure of hope.
Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, a Democratic representative from Detroit and a former educator, said “the tides are changing” in Lansing.
She said that Pamela Hornberger, Republican chair of the House committee on education, visited a school in Detroit last week.
“I couldn’t get that in my first term, because I was the representative who was always talking about how we have to get the emergency managers out of Detroit,” she said.
But she pointed out that Detroiters don’t need convincing, and that the question of school funding will ultimately be decided by politicians from other parts of the state.
“It’s incumbent on people outside of the city to go to their representatives,” she said.