Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is “proud of the record bipartisan investments” the state has pumped into schools to help students read, and she’s leveraging March is Reading month to call for more.

“In Michigan, we still have challenges with literacy, and we need to invest in academic supports so our kids can catch up and get on track for long-term success,” Whitmer said in a video posted to X this week.

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

“As governor, I’m proud of the record bipartisan investments we have made in order to help our kids read,” she said. “We tripled the number of literacy coaches, raised per-pupil funding to all-time highs so students have more classroom resources, and funded before and after programs, including personalized tutoring.”

Whitmer’s call for more from taxpayers follows more than $6 billion in COVID relief funds spent on Michigan education in recent years to help students recover from learning loss during government-imposed school closures amid the pandemic, according to Chalkbeat Detroit.

“Reading opens doors to new worlds, empowers our children, and lays the foundation for a bright future,” Whitmer posted to X. “Together, we can write a new chapter for Michigan, where every child’s story leads to success.”

Go Ad-Free, Get Content, Go Premium Today - $1 Trial

The governor’s track record on education speaks for itself.

Whitmer’s unilateral decision to close down the state’s schools to in-person learning for nearly a year contributed to fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress plummeting from 32nd nationally in 2019 to 43rd in 2022.

It’s even worse for minority students.

“Latino students, Black students, students with disabilities and students from low-income backgrounds were falling at least 12 percentage points below the statewide average in terms of third grade reading,” Jen DeNeal, director of policy research for The Education Trust-Midwest, told Michigan Advance in January. “Early reading is a really important indicator of future success, so even as early as third grade we see these really large opportunity gaps between groups.”

Statewide, about 41.6% of third-graders tested proficient in reading in 2022, though the news site notes the results varied widely by district and student demographics. The figure for black third-graders was 16%, more than 10% behind students still learning English at 26.4%.

A report from the governor’s own Growing Michigan Together Council found the state is “lagging behind” others with less than 33% of forth- and eighth-grade students testing proficient in reading or math.

In Detroit Public Schools, students fell roughly a year behind in both math and reading during the pandemic, despite the district receiving about $1.27 billion in federal COVID aid for learning recovery.

Michigan’s federal COVID spending through March 1 has consisted of $2.32 billion or roughly 48% spent on salaries and benefits, $1.38 billion or 29% on purchased services, $590 million or 12% on supplies and materials, $340 million or 7% on capital outlay, and the rest, $190 million or about 4%, on “other,” according to the Department of Education’s COVID-19 Spend Dashboard.

While the dashboard shows about $1.2 billion in federal COVID relief funds remain for education, Whitmer is proposing an $80.7 billion budget packed with increased taxpayer funding for universal pre-school and community college, along with other education line items, The Detroit News reports.

The budget presented to the House and Senate appropriations committees last month “is sort of a return to normal” State Budget Director Jen Flood said, leaving only $19 million on Michigan’s balance sheet.

Whitmer’s “marquee proposals” for two years of “free” community college for all high school graduates and pre-school for any 4-year-old, regardless of family income, is expected to cost taxpayers about $93.5 million more than what they’re spending now.

There’s also $200 million in taxpayer-funded breakfasts and lunches for students, $150 million to continue the MI Kids Back on Track program, $50 million for before and after school programs, and $180 million for professional development for literacy teachers.

The governor is also working to shift $670 million in teacher retirement money to the education budget, boost per-pupil funding for public schools by $241, and cut funding for online charter schools by 20%.

“Cutting public education funding for only one segment of students – those who tend to be most at-risk – makes no sense,” Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies told the News.

Other priorities from Whitmer’s Democratic allies in the legislature would change current law that requires students who are a year or more behind on reading by third grade to repeat, according to Michigan Advance.

“Democrats are likely to soon amend the law and remove retention,” the news site reports.

In the meantime, Republicans who currently split the Michigan House of Representatives with Democrats 52-52 are pushing back on Whitmer’s “public relations talking points,” noting her proposed budget would put the state on track for a structural deficit with $19 million to spare, just a year after the state spent a $9 billion surplus.

“With cost pressures increasing annually and so little set aside after last year’s spending spree, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before spending officially outpaces revenues if we do not change course,” Senate Republican Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township, and Sen. Jon Bumstead, R-North Muskegon, said in a February statement.

Democrats are expected to forge ahead regardless following elections in April that political observers believe will give the party a two vote advantage in the lower chamber.