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School Budgets Face Shortfalls

COVID-19 impacted Michiganders in more ways than many of us could have anticipated from when it first appeared as blips on our radar screens earlier this year. It encroached on our social activities, travel, livelihoods and our health. It was hard to imagine how the virus could complicate life even more — until it did.

Among the seemingly endless rain of gut punches the virus continues to effectively land on things as we once knew them, one of the most powerful and devastating is the one it delivered to school budgets.

Kurt Weiss, communications director at the Michigan State Budget Office, said overall revenues were down $6.2 billion when looking at combined general fund and school aid fund numbers in fiscal year 2020-2021. The school aid fund forecast was down $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021.

Complicating matters was a gap between start dates of the State Budget Office fiscal year on Oct. 1 and the start of the fiscal year for school districts on July 1. That caused uncertainty for districts because the State Budget Office did not have a budget in place at the start of the districts’ fiscal year, said Weiss.

Under the federal CARES Act, Michigan received nearly $390 million from the Elementary and Secondary School ​Emergency Relief Fund to help local school districts manage the impact of COVID​-19. Those funds can be used for several activities to assist in continuing education services.

Weiss added that in addition, the state received $3 billion in funding that could not be used to replace lost revenue. He expressed a hope for additional flexibility from Congress in the use of that funding. Until more information becomes available, parents, school administrators, teachers and lawmakers alike are playing a frightening wait-and-see game when it comes to the ongoing effects of the pandemic on the education system.