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State Budget
12:29 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

State to close prison

Florence Crane Correctional Facility in Coldwater, Michigan
(courtesy http://www.mco-seiu.org/)

The state Department of Corrections is closing a state prison in southern Michigan. The move will save the state millions of dollars. The Florence Crane correctional facility in Coldwater costs about $27 million a year to operate.

The facility houses about a thousand mainly older inmates, many with serious health problems. Those inmates will be sent to other prisons around the state. 

John Cordell is the state Corrections Department spokesman. He says the state will be careful when placing these inmates in other facilities. 

“We don’t want to place prisoners in a situation where…they have a pressing health care need, but the health care provider is a hundred miles away, every time  we have to take them back and forth.  It doesn’t make any sense.”  

The Coldwater prison will not be the only state prison closing this summer. The Muskegon Correctional facility is also scheduled to close in June. Cordell says the state doesn’t need the two prisons anymore. 

“We expect that by June first we’ll have well over a thousand beds that are empty within the system. So we can identify this prison.  Close it.  Place those prisoners within the beds in the system and we’ll still have some cushion.”

Michigan’s prison inmate population has declined from a high of 51,000 in 2007  to just under 44,000 today.  

The Daily Reporter in Coldwater notes that Michigan's Corrections Department has been cutting back for some time:

In 2009, to save more than $118 million, Gov. Jennifer Granholm closed three prisons and five camps. They were the Standish Maximum Correctional Facility, along with prisons in Muskegon and Kincheloe. In addition, the state closed camps in Shingleton, Painesdale, Iron River, Grayling and White Lake. The cuts impacted more than 1,000 state employees. Although there was much talk, there were no closures last year.

Changing Gears
12:26 pm
Fri March 25, 2011

Local governments face more losses as cases pile up in tax courts

Donald Betlem bought this home for $5,000 in 2008. He had to convince Detroit it wasn't worth ten times as much.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

Property values have plummeted across the region.

That means cities and towns have watched their tax revenue plunge as well. But many homeowners and businesses think their property taxes are still too high.

The result is a double hit.

Local governments are in fiscal crisis, and the tax courts of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois are clogged with people who want refunds.

People like Donald Betlem.

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Science/Medicine
11:08 am
Fri March 25, 2011

A piece of Michigan and NASA history on the auction block this weekend

8 by 12 inch state of Michigan flag that flew to the moon and back on Apollo 15 in 1971
(courtesy of astronautscholarship.org)

This weekend you’ll have a chance to buy a piece of Michigan and space history. A state of Michigan flag, carried on board Apollo 15,  to the moon and back, is being auctioned. All three members of the Apollo 15 crew had ties to the University of Michigan.

The online auction benefits a science scholarship program. Former NASA astronaut Al Worden piloted the Apollo spacecraft. The Michigan native hopes the 8 by 12 inch flag will attract a lot of bidding. 

“I would expect it to bring in 5 or 6 thousand dollars.  I think the last one that sold at auction I donated brought in almost $6 thousand.”

Worden says the online auction is raising money for science scholarships. 

 “We give out something like 25 scholarships…10 thousand dollars each…every year…which means we have to raise a lot of money.  And one of the ways we do that is by selling artifacts that are donated by astronauts who’ve made a flight…and that is kind of a mainstay how we raise our money.”  

The online auction of NASA memorabilia concludes Saturday night at 10 pm. Anyone interested in bidding on the space flag should go to ‘AstronautScholarship.org’.

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Sports Commentary
10:58 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Getting to know the Fab Five

The Fab Five - From left to right, Jimmy King, Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Ray Jackson, Juwan Howard.
user skoch 3 wikimedia commons

A lot of this story, you already know:

Five super-talented freshmen come to Michigan, and by mid-season the Wolverines become the first team in NCAA history to start all five freshmen. They get to the final game of March Madness before losing to defending national champion Duke. The next year, they make it to the finals again, but lose to North Carolina when their best player, Chris Webber, calls a time-out they don’t have. 

Along the way they make baggy shorts and black socks fashionable, and import rap music and trash talk from the inner-city playground to the mainstream of college basketball.

It’s been that way ever since.

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Commentary
10:53 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Defying Age

Former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly speaks in support of Sen. Tom George's legislation to regulate the billboard industry in Michigan. At 86, he reminded Jack Lessenberry he could still run for Attorney General.
senate.michigan.gov

Former Governor Bill Milliken turns eighty-nine tomorrow. When I talked to him a couple weeks ago, he said, after discussing the current Michigan budget, that I keep getting his age wrong.

“I am actually fifty-three,” he said, before bursting into laughter. Talking to Milliken always perks me up, because I am thirty years younger than the man who I always think of as “the governor.”

And I certainly hope I still have a sense of humor at his age, though by that time I may well want to give up talking about state budgets.  I find it very encouraging that there are a great many people who are now living to tremendous ages, and enjoying life.

A week ago, I went to visit former Attorney General Frank Kelley in Florida. He had me hop into his convertible and we sped towards Marco Island, where we had lunch with a tough old Massachusetts politician, Francis X. Bellotti.

Kelley is eighty-six; Bellotti is about to be eighty-eight and looks sixty-five. The two Franks talked about old wars and about John F. Kennedy, who both knew. “When you saw him, you didn’t just think he should be president. You thought he was the answer to everything wrong in the world,” said Bellotti.

Later, on the drive back, Kelley sighed. “It’s hell getting old,” he said. “How would you know?” I wanted to ask.

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Arts/Culture
9:56 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Writer's workshop geared toward homeless

Groundcover News is available in Washtenaw County

Would-be writers can take part in a workshop this weekend. Groundcover News is hosting the event Saturday, March 26 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Groundcover is a monthly paper in Washtenaw County that focuses on poverty and homelessness and many of its writers are struggling with those issues.

The workshop is geared toward people who have written for the paper, but anyone can attend.

Freelance writer Vickie Elmer is teaching the class. She says the idea is to have more voices, telling more compelling stories.

The workshop happens at the First Baptist Church in Ann Arbor. Cost is $20, but admission is free if participants promise to write two future articles for the paper.

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Environment
8:47 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Oil spill clean up continues, public use of Kalamazoo River still on hold

Father and daughter stand by the Kalamazoo River last summer a few days after the July oil spill
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Its been months since an oil pipeline ruptured near Marshall, spewing more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude. Since last July, hundreds of clean-up workers have been removing tons of contaminated soil along the Kalamazoo River in Calhoun County. That work goes on, and while it does, public use of the river will remain on hold.

The Battle Creek Enquirer is reporting today that Calhoun County officials say they don't know when public use of the river will be allowed. Jim Rutherford is with the Calhoun County Public Health.

"Until I know it's a safe environment, I'm still going to keep the closing on...the last thing I want is for somebody to get exposure (to oil), get hurt or worse as a result of getting tied up in the boom." 

The clean up along the Kalamazoo River slowed as winter weather moved in last fall. But, an Enbridge Energy spokeswoman says they are transitioning now to more aggressive oil removal work. The EPA's investigation into the oil spill continues.

News Roundup
8:04 am
Fri March 25, 2011

In this morning's news...

Morning News Roundup, Friday, March 25th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

Students Protest Budget Cuts

A few hundred college students protested against Governor Snyder’s budget proposal at the state Capitol yesterday. Snyder has called for a 15 percent cut to Michigan’s public colleges and universities. Laura Weber was reporting from Lansing and said although the rally was not the largest that the Capitol has seen in the past couple of weeks it was one of the loudest. Weber reports Governor Snyder would have been able to hear the students across the street in his office.

Michigan State Police Announces Closures

The Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state in order to save money. Closings include posts in Battle Creek, Detroit, and Traverse City. The Associated Press reports:

The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.

Muslim Group Claims Harassment at Border

An Islamic advocacy group says border agents are harassing and violating the civil rights of scores of American Muslims re-entering the country from Canada, Sarah Hulett reports. The group CAIR is filing complaints with the Department of Homeland Security. As Hulett reports:

Abdulrahman Cherri is a student at the University of Michigan. His fiancé lives in Canada, and he says when he returns to the U.S. from visiting her, his car has been taken apart, and he’s been subjected to invasive full-body searches. He says he’s also been questioned about his religion, even after telling border agents that he’s too busy with school to worship. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says parents have been ordered out of cars at gunpoint and handcuffed while their children watched.

CAIR is also asking the Justice Department to investigate the harassment.

Detroit
7:21 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Iconic former train station could get a fix-up

The Michigan Central Depot
MichaelNPatterson Flickr

It’s being reported this morning that Manuel (Matty) Moroun, owner of the Michigan Central Depot in Detroit, plans to replace the roof and windows of the tattered train station. From the Detroit News:

After decades of looking like a bombed-out relic, the iconic Michigan Central Train Depot is set to receive a mini face-lift…

Created by the same architects who designed Grand Central Station in New York City, the building at one time was the largest train station in the world and known for its rich décor.

Decline and decay pulled into the station soon after the last train departed in January 1988. Scrappers looted the building.

Over the years, several ideas have been pitched for the building, including a new police headquarters. None has panned out. Nor has a 2009 resolution from the City Council to demolish it.

Because of its look of urban decay, the depot has been used in several films, including "Transformers," "The Island," "Four Brothers" and "Eight Mile.”

Moroun also owns the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit to Windsor, Ontario. The Detroit News quotes Bridge Company President Dan Stamper as saying, “We're applying with the city to replace the roof and the windows…We're doing it because it would be much easier to help a developer to come up with a package to use the depot if some improvements were made … so that's what we're doing.”

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Business
7:03 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Senator Levin to attend small business summit in Detroit

Michigan Senator Carl Levin (D) will be in Detroit today along with federal officials
Jeffrey Simms Photography Flickr

Michigan Senator Carl Levin and officials from the White House, the Department of Defense, and the City of Detroit will host a small business summit at Cobo Center in Detroit today. As the Associated Press reports, the event is, “designed to help Michigan small businesses explore contracting opportunities with the defense industry. Small business representatives are to learn about the defense acquisition process, meet defense contracting officials and explore contracting opportunities at the Department of Defense."

Levin, a Democrat from Detroit, is Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Budget Cuts
6:54 am
Fri March 25, 2011

Michigan State Police plan to close 21 posts

The Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it would be closing 21 state posts
Nikonmania Flickr

As part of a plan to save nearly $21 million, the Michigan State Police announced yesterday that it plans to close 21 posts across the state. Closings include posts in Adrian, Bad Axe, Battle Creek, Bridgeport, Bridgman, Cheboygan, Corunna, Detroit, Gladwin, Groveland, Hastings, Iron River, Ithaca, L'Anse, Manistee, Munising, Newaygo, Richmond, Stephenson, Traverse City and Ypsilanti. The Associated Press reports:

The changes would take effect with the start of Michigan's next budget year in October. Troopers would be deployed throughout the state mostly from remaining posts and other buildings the state police would call detachments. Some troopers assigned to rural areas would be based from their homes. The state police say it's part of a regional policing plan.

From the Detroit News:

Gov. Rick Snyder announced his intention to close posts last month but gave few details. The severity of the plan shocked some: No troopers will be laid off, but come October, the number of posts will fall from 62 to 29, as 12 posts will be downgraded to detachments that are closed to the public but open to troopers for administrative work.

The move is one of the biggest changes in years to a system of policing that has remained virtually unchanged for seven decades. And it's got some worried if troopers can adequately cover larger areas...The plan is designed to save about $3.2 million to help the department offset a $20.7 million shortfall to its $521.5 million budget. Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue said in a statement that troopers will continue to patrol roads and assist communities at the same level they have in the past.

Lawsuit
4:21 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

ACLU sues state over lemonade mix-up that cost parent custody

7-year-old Leo Ratté was placed in a foster home after his father unknowingly bought him lemonade that contained alcohol.
Jon Sullivan Wikipedia Commons

The ACLU is challenging a state law that allows children to be taken away from their parents without proof that they’re in immediate danger.

Claire Zimmerman says she hopes the lawsuit will make sure what happened to her family never happens to anyone else.

Three years ago, Zimmerman’s son, who was seven at the time, was at a Tiger game. Her husband, Christopher Ratté, unknowingly bought their son a bottle of lemonade with alcohol, and in the ninth inning they were approached by a security guard, who asked Ratté whether he knew his son was drinking an alcoholic beverage. Ratté said no, but the police were called. The boy was taken into the state’s custody later that day.

The state refused to release the boy to Zimmerman, even though she was not at the game with her son, and the next day he was placed in a foster home, where he stayed for three days.

Zimmerman says the ordeal was a nightmare:

"(It's) very difficult not to know where your child is physically. We of course felt that we had really let him down."

ACLU-Michigan Legal Director Michael Steinberg says if the boy’s parents had not been University of Michigan professors with access to the school’s legal resources, they might have been separated from their son for much longer:

"Families without the resources of our clients are sometimes unjustly separated for weeks, if not months."

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to declare Michigan’s law unconstitutional because it violates parents’ rights to due process.

Civil rights
2:54 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Muslim group claims border harassment

CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid, front left, is joined by staff attorney Lena Masri and (standing, left to right) Abdulrahman Cherri, Kheireddine Bouzid and Imam Ali Suliman Ali, who say they've been subjected to harassement by border guards.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

An Islamic advocacy group says border agents are harassing and violating the civil rights of scores of American Muslims re-entering the country from Canada.

Abdulrahman Cherri is a student at the University of Michigan. His fiancé lives in Canada, and he says when he returns to the U.S. from visiting her, his car has been taken apart, and he’s been subjected to invasive full-body searches. He says he’s also been questioned about his religion, even after telling border agents that he’s too busy with school to worship.

"But he insisted on me telling him where I attend, where I pray. I told him I go a few times and he asks me, what do I do there? What kind of activities do you have? Who’s the leader of your place of worship? What’s his name? Where’s he from?"

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says parents have been ordered out of cars at gunpoint and handcuffed while their children watched.

CAIR is filing complaints with the Department of Homeland Security, and it’s asking the Justice Department to investigate.

Budget protests
2:47 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

College students rally against proposed higher ed budget cuts

Capitol Building, Lansing, MI
thetoad flickr

A few hundred college students representing all of Michigan’s public colleges and universities rallied at the state Capitol today. They are protesting Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget cuts for higher education. Many students held signs with angry and sometimes profane messages aimed at Governor Snyder.

Cardi DeMonaco is president of the Student Association of Michigan. He says he hopes lawmakers pay attention to the concerns of students. 

"Yeah, I think they need to have just talk about this, not just cut and cut and cut, and then they’re going to have issues just keeping up the value of their education. He needs to talk to them and do things with the money they got and not cut it, and work together, and make education better, not just cut and expect them to become better by cutting.”

Snyder has proposed a 15% minimum cut for public colleges and universities. University presidents have said cuts that deep would mean tuition hikes. 

DeMonaco thinks the student voices will be heard, and lawmakers will find other areas in the budget to save, rather than through cuts to colleges and universities.

Crime
2:33 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

U.P. man arrested in connection with 'explosive components' left at federal building in Detroit

A man from the Upper Peninsula is accused in connection with ‘explosive components’ discovered outside the federal building in Detroit. Law enforcement authorities arrested 42-year-old Gary John Mikulich today after linking him to the package discovered at the McNamara federal building in Detroit.

The package was discovered February 26th.  But it wasn’t disposed of right away. A security guard placed the package in the ‘lost & found’ room. It sat there for three weeks before the Detroit Bomb squad disposed of it.

Gary Mikulich is a graduate of the engineering program at Michigan Technical University.  Federal prosecutors allege Mikulich has often complained about the FBI’s ‘card system’, which he allegedly blames for the deaths of thousands of people, including his father. An FBI spokeswoman says the agency is "not aware of what this 'card system' (Mikulich) refers to."

A news release from the U.S. Justice Department says:

Mikulich and his vehicle match the description of an individual who purchased a Husky brand tool bag and a GE timer used in the commission of the crime alleged in the complaint. Mikulich made the purchase of these items from the Home Depot store in Iron Mountain, Michigan, on February 14, 2011. Moreover, Mikulich’s white Oldsmobile was spotted in Livingston County–450 miles from his home and just 50 miles from Detroit–in the early morning hours of February 25, 2011.  Also, search warrants were executed this morning at Mukulich’s residence and his vehicle.

Mikulich faces up to 20 years and a quarter million dollar fine if convicted of attempting to set off an explosive device at a federal government building.

Offbeat
2:08 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Take part in city-wide Grand Rapids ‘lip-dub’ video

This is part of the storyboard for Bliss' lip-dub video promoting Grand Rapids.
Rob Bliss Rob Bliss Events

A community organizer is asking tens of thousands of people to help him create a video promoting Grand Rapids. Rob Bliss is known around Grand Rapids for putting on one-of-a-kind, free events and he's announced his latest idea. He’s planning to make the video crazy enough that it’ll go viral.

Lip-dubs are like a music video featuring regular people lip-singing and dancing to a song they all know. They’re usually not edited – meaning they have to shoot the whole video in one take.

Bliss says lots of high schools and colleges have been putting together lip-dubs to promote their schools lately.

“But no one’s really made a truly city-wide professional level production like this kind of thing. And I think that’s really what’s exciting about this, is that it’s really attempting something that – at least to me – feels nearly impossible."

Which, to me, is sort of strange. Bliss has pulled off all kinds of crazy events. For ArtPrize once he made thousands of colored paper airplanes and flew them off skyscrapers downtown. He’s attracted thousands of people downtown for a massive pillow fight, a world-record-setting zombie walk, sidewalk chalk floods, and the ‘world’s largest inflatable waterslide’ which stretched two city-blocks down a steep street.

The nine minute long video (set to the tune of a live version of Don McClean’s “American Pie”) will be a continuous, single camera shot with no edits. Bliss says it’ll take a whole day and thousands of residents to set up and shoot. 

 “We stuff it full of all of this crazy, crazy, crazy stuff. Weddings, marching bands, motorcades with police officers hanging out the windows singing the songs, pillow fights, kayakers in the grand river, lighting parts of Pearl Street Bridge on fire, helicopter take-off out of downtown; ridiculousness really.”

Bliss has hired a professional production company for the video shoot. He expects to spend between $25,000 and $35,000 on it. He’s now hiring some part-time staff and looking for volunteers to help with and be in the video.

The big day for the video shoot is Sunday May 15th with a rain date the following weekend.

Politics
1:24 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Democrats want Snyder to veto jobless benefits bill

(Flickr swanksalot)

UPDATE 1:24 p.m.:   A spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder says the governor expects to sign the bill which would reduce the number of weeks jobless Michiganders will be able to recieve state unemployment benefits. Spokeswoman Sara Wurfel says:

"(The governor's) priority was to ensure no one receiving unemployment benefits was cut off abruptly. It's a lifeline for Michiganders right now - we simply can't risk tens of thousands of Michigan's families immediately losing their benefits in April.  He’s continuing to work tirelessly to help turn around Michigan's economy and create more and better jobs so that we can hopefully reduce the need for unemployment in the first place."

ORIGINAL POST 12:17 p.m.: Democrats are calling on Governor Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that will reduce state unemployment benefits to Michiganders from 26 to 20 weeks. The Republican controlled legislature passed the benefits  cut Wednesday, as part of  a bill to continue extended federal jobless benefits to Michigan’s unemployed.

Royal Oak Congressman Sander Levin says the governor should veto the bill that will eventually reduce benefits for Michigan’s most in need.  

"This is the worst time to do this for Michigan workers.  I think it is reckless.  It’s inexcusable.”

Cutting state benefits will reduce the cost to Michigan businesses that must pay into the unemployment fund.  Cutting state unemployment benefits by 6 weeks could also reduce federal unemployment benefits by up to 16 weeks for jobless Michiganders. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says the change will save state businesses $300 a year starting in 2012.

Levin says it’s unfair to shorten the period unemployed Michiganders can receive jobless benefits. 

“The governor can say to the legislature 'Get back.  Do what needs to be done here.  And stop the hijacking.'”

Federal jobless benefits for 35,000 unemployed Michiganders will expire April 1st  if Snyder vetoes the bill.

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Jennifer Granholm
1:09 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Former Governor elected to Dow Chemical Board of Directors

Former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm has been elected to the board of directors of Dow Chemical. The Midland-based chemicals industry giant announced Granholm's election today.

In a written statement, Dow CEO Andrew Liverus says Granholm will help the company as it pursues growth.  

“Jennifer Granholm’s experience and perspective will be instrumental as we continue to advocate for national and international policies that drive innovation, increase productivity, encourage investments in technology and create jobs." 

This has been a pretty busy week for the former governor. The Pew Charitable Trust announced this week that Granholm will serve as a Senior Advisor to the Trust's Clean Energy Program. She was also recently appointed to a public policy position at the University of California-Berkeley.

Granholm served 8 years as Michigan governor.  Her second term ended in January. 

Environment
12:00 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

Rebranding the Great Lakes Seaway

The Dutch-flagged, Dane-piloted Avonborg was carrying 75 wind turbine blades to Burns Harbor, Indiana, on Lake Michigan, on the opening day of the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Photo by David Sommerstein

Another sure sign of spring: the Great Lakes shipping season kicked off this week.

Millions of tons of cargo travel by boat on the Great Lakes every year– freighters from the Atlantic Ocean that enter the Lakes by way of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The first freighter of the 53rd Seaway season eased through the locks in Montreal on Tuesday. David Sommerstein visited Montreal for the opening ceremonies.  He found out that Seaway officials are trying to rebrand the Seaway:

The first freighter rumbling into the St. Lambert Lock was the Dutch-flagged "Avonborg."  It was loaded up with wind turbine parts.

David spoke with Terry Johnson, the U.S. chief of the St. Lawrence Seaway:

"Wind turbines have been increasingly coming in and it’s nice to be able to see something that is visual. This is good."

The windmill parts bound for Indiana aren’t just a good photo opp. They’re the perfect image the Seaway wants to project these days – that it’s the greenest, cheapest way to transport goods. Shipping is far more fuel efficient than trucking.

Ross Fletcher of BBC Chartering contracted this ship.

"Those 75 blades represent 75 truckloads that aren’t going to travel between Montreal and the U.S. Midwest, so we’re taking 75 truckloads off the highways."

The Seaway’s been trying to reinvent itself since it was built in the 1950s.

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K-12 schools budget
10:41 am
Thu March 24, 2011

Republican led state Senate introduces first draft of K-12 schools budget

A crowd gathers in a Grand Rapids neighborhood to protest Governor Snyder's budget plan earlier this month.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Republican lawmakers in Lansing are taking feedback on their first draft of the budget for K through 12 public schools. The plan cuts less per student than Governor Rick Snyder’s proposed budget.

Senator Howard Walker chairs the appropriations subcommittee on K-12, School Aid and Education. He says instead, the Senate version gets rid of line items funds in the budget that cover specific things like school bus inspections, adult education, and money for districts with two consecutive years of declining student enrollment.

 “We’re not making broad-based cuts to programs, that we’re not increasing class sizes too broadly so that the delivery of good educational opportunities is not affected.”

School districts get a certain amount of money from the state for each student. Currently, $7,316 is the minimum per pupil allowance a district gets. Governor Snyder is proposing to cut that amount by $470 (including making permanent a $170 cut made last year) for all school districts. The plan before the Senate would cut that per pupil allowance by $290.

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