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COVID-19 pandemic badly impacting school finances

These are tough times to be in the education business at any level but especially K-12.

The school year in mid-March was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were sent home to uncertain learning situations, although from all acounts parents and guardians did their best to cope with an unexpected circumstance.

State aid payments, upon which school budgets are largely based, were maintained in the short term and school employees at all levels continued to receive paychecks. But with state revenues tumbling because people just aren’t spending, schools are being told that something called proration may kick in for aid payments traditionally received during summer months.

In a nutshell, proration means local schools may not receive all of the money they expected and budgeted for from the state this summer.

And that would be very bad news.

Ishpeming Superintendent Carrie Mayer seemed to speak for many in the education community when she noted in a recent Mining Journal story: “We don’t finish getting our state aid allocation for the ’19-20 school year until July and August. So, even (though) our school year’s complete — we’ve committed to paying all our employees — there may be a proration in July and August that goes back into the ’19-20 budget year.”

Districts, including Ishpeming, are getting ahead of the curve and instituting budget reductions now. That’s smart. And many are tapping fund balances — rainy day accounts set aside to cover unexpected expenses –in anticipation of more bad news from Lansing.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and others in the State Legislature must tread very carefully going forward. Substantial cuts to education will be devastating to schools and students.

And we trust employee groups including organized labor will be open to short-term accommodations that benefit everyone, should that become necessary.

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