It turns out school is back in session for the 435 public school students of Saginaw, Mich., after all. On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Education pledged to release state funds to the deficit-stricken Buena Vista School District, allowing schools in Saginaw to remain open through the end of the school year.
As recently as Monday, it seemed like things would go differently. That was when school district officials announced that, due to a crippling budget shortfall, school would not return for the remainder of the semester. Students were instead supposed to have the option of attending a voluntary "skills enhancement camp" over the summer.
“I am pleased to see that the State of Michigan will release state aid payments to the Buena Vista School District," said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., in a statement. "This is certainly a promising development and it is my hope that the kids and teachers will immediately return to their classrooms and finish their school year.”
Buena Vista's budget deficit was caused in part by $40,000 in aid which the district mistakenly received and now must return. The state government also withheld three months worth of normally scheduled aid because, the Department of Education said, Buena Vista officials had failed to submit a satisfactory deficit elimination plan (DEP). Progressive organizations and politicians had been calling on Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to release emergency funds to the district, but he demurred.
Tuesday night, the local school board approved a DEP which State Superintendent Mike Flanagan said was up to the state government's standards.
"The skills camp always was a back-up plan," Flanagan said in a statement. "Our first priority was to re-open the traditional classroom programs, but if the local school board hadn't adopted an approvable DEP, we wanted to still find ways to provide instruction to the students. That back-up plan won't be needed now."
Buena Vista schools may open their doors again as soon as Friday. However, it remains unclear what their financial situation will be in the following school year, or whether other Michigan school districts could find themselves in a similar position. A recent report [PDF] from the state Department of Education said as many as 49 school districts are running budget deficits, some of them "insurmountable."