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Report: Here’s how Michigan could protect vulnerable students from COVID budget cuts

School leaders across the state are bracing for deep cuts in state funding. Anthony Lanzilote

The coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately hurt disadvantaged students — and looming state budget cuts could make matters worse. But Michigan lawmakers can shield the most vulnerable students from the worst of the expected reductions, a new report says.

The report calls for Michigan to cut more from wealthier districts and less from needier ones. The higher a district’s proportion of at-risk students — a category that includes English learners, students with special needs, and children from low-income families — the less that district’s budget should be cut, according to the recommendations.

EdTrust Midwest, a nonprofit education advocacy group, released the report along with a group of business and civic leaders.

“The time is now to correct and eradicate years of policies that have been harmful to children with disabilities, children of color,” said Alice Thompson, CEO of Black Family Educational Services, speaking at the press conference where the report was presented.

Ohio has already taken the approach the report’s authors are advocating, while other states, including New York, have made larger cuts to higher needs districts..

Any policy change will depend on legislative leaders and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Michigan’s GOP-controlled legislature is at work on a back-to-school policy, but their plan focuses on virtual learning and doesn’t contain any specifics about funding. Whitmer, a Democrat, has said protecting schools will be her top priority during budget negotiations. Leaders of both parties have signaled that they are looking to the federal government to provide additional funds for schools.

Mike Jandernoa, the longtime CEO of Perrigo, a Michigan pharmaceutical supply company, and a board member of the West Michigan education initiative Talent 2025, said state leaders can’t afford to wait on the federal government.

“We don’t have a lot of time, there’s got to be a lot of work done,” he said, adding, “I think the three top leaders in our state have been open to the idea of investing in at-risk kids.”

The state’s new fiscal year begins in October. Across the country, the economic fallout from the coronavirus has hit state budgets hard.

Cuts would make it harder for districts to employ classroom aides, social workers, and other educators who will play a crucial role in helping students make up for the learning they likely lost while classrooms were closed this spring.

Research shows that funding cuts during the last economic downturn, about a decade ago, hurt student learning.

Here is the full report:

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

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