By Tom Tolen /

Just two days before the state legislature passed what is being called a “historic” public education funding measure, the Brighton Area Schools Board of Education adopted a budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that began Thursday.

The spending plan for Brighton totals $86.5 million, an increase of less than $1 million over the revised budget for the 20-21 fiscal year, which was also approved Monday night. The Brighton Area Schools, which for years has been lumped with a large group of school districts at the bottom in state aid, received $8,111 in per-pupil funding for the 2020-21 year.

However, on Wednesday Michigan lawmakers approved a $17.1 billion K-12 budget, one that will boost overall funding by 7%. For Brighton, that will mean a hefty increase of $589 in per-pupil funding. The substantial state aid increase is designed to eliminate the funding gap between so-called “wealthy” districts and poor districts. The districts at the top will receive a far lower increase than those at, and near, the bottom. Conversely, districts that were “held harmless” when the state passed Proposal A in 1994, such as Bloomfield Hills, have in excess of $12,000 behind each student since they are allowed to pass local millages above and beyond the state Base Foundation Grant amount. Districts at and near the top in funding will get a relatively modest $171 in state funding, marking a 2% increase.

Under the state K-12 education funding bill local districts such as Brighton, along with charter schools, will receive $8,700 in base per-student state aid, not including at least $1,093 more per pupil in federal funding from a rescue package.

Legislators endorsed Whitmer’s proposal to expand state-funded pre-school to include 22,000 more 4-year-olds. They added $240 million to hire additional school nurses and counselors and $155 million to allocate up to $1,000 each to students struggling with reading. The scholarship could be used for instructional materials, tutoring, summer and after-school programming. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to quickly sign the state education funding bill.

Republican State Sen. Lana Theis of Brighton Twp. weighed in on the state education package. She said, “The goal of this program is to provide as many good options to parents as humanly possible.” Theis cited learning declines as children went to school online during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite it being “a very challenging year,” in the words of Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Mike Engelter, Brighton was able to add several hundred thousand dollars to its fund equity in the fiscal year which ended Wednesday and finished the year with a healthy fund balance of $8.2 million. And, according to Engelter's projections, the district will gain an additional $1.4 million in fund equity by the end of the 21-22 fiscal year. That’s due to a combination of factors, including the unprecedented increase in state per-pupil aid stemming partly from a generous COVID relief package.

The state’s fiscal year doesn’t start until October 1st, so local school districts annually are required to approve their budgets before the end of their own fiscal year, which takes place on June 30th. Since the amount of state aid the legislature ultimately approved was undetermined at the time Engelter prepared the budget, he told the board he built the spending plan around a relatively modest, $200 per-pupil state aid increase.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.