It wasn’t always a pretty process, but the legislature managed to uphold its self-imposed July 1st deadline for at least one of its statutory budgets by passing a budget for K-12 schools. Included in the largest single-year School Aid Fund budget ever passed in Michigan was funding for 10 Cents a Meal at $5 million dollars, more than double the funding for 2020-21.
For a little perspective, in the recent past, the legislature was often at loggerheads with previous governors up to the end of September, if not October 1st. (The Snyder years are anomalous). Speaking as former legislative staff, in the past there were countless marathon sessions in the build up to getting the state’s budget passed, with legislators guzzling coffee, scarfing-down candy, pizza or whatever sandwiches the lobby corps would have schlepped in, and sleeping on the chamber floors.
At the onset of 2021-22 budget process, the governor recommended funding for 10 Cents a Meal at $2 million, which would have held funding constant from the previous year. The Senate recommended nearly $5 million, whereas the House initially zeroed out funding in their bill—which I saw as a likely bluff. As the process went on, it became clear that the state coffers were going to be flush with money—something that was not evident when the initial budget prognostications were made during the Revenue Estimating Conference. As the state’s financial outlook became all the stronger as the year progressed, it became clear that the legislature had an opportunity to make a commitment to our schools in a manner that we have never seen before.
We are grateful for our legislative champions, primarily Senator Wayne Schmidt, for his unwavering and constant support for 10 Cents a Meal. That this grant program can be a part of this unprecedented budget is a testament to the resilience of school food services and early childhood education centers, and all of those dedicated individuals who tirelessly work for the benefit of children across the state.
The $5-million funding is also a testament to our legislators’ understanding of the central strategic value of 10 Cents a Meal: healthy, locally grown foods help build the minds and bodies of our children, while the purchases support family farms and preserve countryside.
Despite a chilly relationship between legislative chambers and the executive over the course of the past year, everybody managed to set their differences aside, weather a contentious negotiation process, and strike a deal. The K-12 budget passed nearly unanimously: 33 Yea to 1 Nay in the Senate, and 106 Yea to 3 Nay (2 excused) in the House.
While lawmakers were unable to move any other bills before the deadline of July 1, I’m very hopeful that the execution of this deal can help to mend relationships, lower tension, and serve as a balm to otherwise frayed nerves. As state leaders come to grips with the fact that they have an unprecedented $12 billion windfall due to revenues exceeding forecasts and federal aid from the American Rescue Plan, I hope that this budget negotiation can serve as a model, so the rest can be a little less acrimonious.
All eyes are on Governor Whitmer now as HB 4411 awaits her signature.
Nathan Medina is a policy specialist for Groundwork. [email protected]