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Whitmer: Conversations continue with Legislature on FOIA reform, free pre-K and community college

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Whitmer: Conversations continue with Legislature on FOIA reform, free pre-K and community college

May 29, 2024 | 5:31 am ET
By Kyle Davidson
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Whitmer: Conversations continue with Legislature on FOIA reform, free pre-K and community college
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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks with Michigan Advance at the Michigan Governor's Summer Residence on May 28, 2024 during the Mackinac Policy Conference. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

In a Tuesday interview at the governor’s residence on Mackinac Island, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told the Michigan Advance conversations with legislative leaders are ongoing to fund universal pre-K and two-years of free community college in the incoming budget for Fiscal Year 2025. 

During her State of the State address in January, Whitmer moved the deadline forward on her plan to provide pre-K for 4-year-olds from the end of her term as governor to the end of 2024, and also pledged two-years of tuition-free community college for Michigan’s High School graduates. 

Whitmer lays out $80.7B budget plan for FY 2025, slightly slimmer than this year’s budget

However, as the Democratic-led House and the Senate moved forward on their respective budget proposals, funding for free pre-K and community college was notably absent from the House’s version of the budget

The Senate took a different approach, opting to raise income thresholds on the state’s current free pre-K program to 400% of the federal poverty level. Under the Senate’s proposal, tuition aid for community college would differ depending on where a student lives and chooses to attend community college. 

“We are hoping to get to pre-K for all at one point in the future. However, the difference is that we’re taking a more measured approach, increasing it to a different poverty threshold and allowing our schools and communities, organizations to really online more classrooms to allow for — once we open up the opportunity for all Michigan residents — we will have enough slots, classrooms, teachers available in the pipeline,” state Sen. Darrin Camilleri, chair of the Senate Appropriations Pre-K-12 Subcommittee, told reporters following after Senate Democrats voted through the final bill in their proposed budget. 

As the Senate and House work out the differences between their proposed budgets before putting the final product to a vote in both chambers, Whitmer said negotiations with legislative leaders will continue.

“It’s always a negotiation, but universal pre-K is something that the people of this state have been clamoring for for years. We know that that kind of investment sets the youngest Michiganders up for lifelong health and lifelong wealth,” Whitmer said Tuesday. 

The community college component came from the Growing Michigan Together Council’s recommendation to make it easier for people in the state to build their skills and get good paying jobs by addressing financial barriers, Whitmer said. 

“I can’t tell you exactly where we’re going to land. But I can reaffirm that these are two things that I think are really important for the success of our state,” Whitmer said. 

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said it’s critical for the Legislature to strike while the iron is hot. 

Whitmer: Conversations continue with Legislature on FOIA reform, free pre-K and community college
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist talks with Michigan Advance at the Michigan Governor’s Summer Residence on May 28, 2024 during the Mackinac Policy Conference. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

“It saves parents money and helps kids meet their early milestones. We think that there’s no argument against the good things that pre-K brings,” Gilchrist said. 

Whitmer also signaled she would support increased transparency into state government, but said she was uncertain when those efforts would move forward. 

“I’m proud that we are the most transparent administration in Michigan history,” Whitmer said, while discussing a law she signed in December, implementing the financial disclosure component of Proposal 1, which requiring state officials and and candidates for office to file annual reports disclosing assets, income, and properties valued over $1,000 alongside liabilities of $10,000 or greater.

Prior to the laws taking effect, Michigan was one of two states without financial disclosure requirements, the other being Idaho. 

“As you look at these new transparency requirements for office holders, you see that we’ve took the most expansive, liberal interpretation of everything and kind of set the standard,” Whitmer said. “I’ll be honest with you, not every office holder was happy about that, but they’ve followed suit, largely because we’ve always wanted to open up and make sure that people have the ability to have a little line of sight into what’s happening in state government and who their office holders are.”

Whitmer: Conversations continue with Legislature on FOIA reform, free pre-K and community college
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (right) and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist talk with Michigan Advance reporters at the Michigan Governor’s Summer Residence on May 28, 2024 during the Mackinac Policy Conference. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

However, some say the new disclosure requirements do not go far enough, pointing to gaps in the policy such as the lack of financial disclosure for spousal income, which could allow lawmakers to circumvent the law by placing assets in their spouse’s name. 

In November, Sens. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield) and Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) introduced their latest of multiple efforts to reform Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Sen. Bills 669 and 670, which would make the Executive Office of the Governor and the Legislature subject to FOIA. While the bills were referred to the Senate floor from committee, they have yet to receive a vote. 

House Republicans also introduced a slate of FOIA Reform bills in March of 2023, but the bills have sat in committee untouched. 

Whitmer said she would like to see greater transparency, and would like to ensure the requirements are equivalent between branches of government, and that she would continue to work toward those policies. 

“I’m not sure what the timing will be, but I know that there are earnest conversations happening,” Whitmer said.