Michigan school employees paid their fair share to overfund their retirement health care, and they’re pushing back on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plan for the state to skip out on its part of the deal.

House Democrats in May approved an $80.9 billion budget that includes Whitmer’s proposal to divert more than $600 million from the state’s pension system for teachers to other priorities like electric vehicle chargers, drones, and electric bike incentives.

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Whitmer argues that because the health care portion of the retirement system is now overfunded, the state can afford to skip its scheduled pension payments to spend the money elsewhere, though The Detroit News notes that’s only possible because a Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature began pre-funding retiree health care in 2013.

To fund the retiree health benefits, the government, school districts, and teachers put in extra payments on top of what they were already paying.

“It was expected that the fund would be fully restored by 2032, but Governor Whitmer announced that in 2024 the fund had been 120% funded,” The Monroe News reports. “However, she also said that the government would stop paying their extra share without mentioning a decrease in the amount the districts and teachers paid.”

That’s not sitting well with Republicans in Lansing, or the state’s teachers unions and associations.

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“It’s a short-sighted decision that works to manipulate our debt payment laws while ultimately taking advantage of benefits our teachers were promised and are owed,” Rep. Tim Beson, R-Bay City, said when House Democrats approved the move in May.

A group of 13 education organizations that include the Michigan Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, Michigan Alliance for Student Opportunity, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, and others also penned a letter to lawmakers with a similar message.

The groups want Democrats, elected to a majority for the first time in four decades, to invest the additional dollars into Michigan classrooms, calling for “permanently lowering the cap of school contributions to reflect the full funding of the MPSERS OPEB Trust Fund and committing to continued reductions of this rate moving forward,” the letter read, referring to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System.

“We also call for the state to discontinue the requirement that school employees pay three percent of their salaries toward retiree health debt that has, through our collective sacrifice, been eliminated.”

Lowering the cost for schools would free up an average of $500 per pupil schools “can invest directly into the programs and people that promote student success,” according to the letter.

Planned spending in the House budget includes $110 million for the “Public Safety and Violence Prevention Fund,” $15 million for community and neighborhood groups, $15 million for aerial drones, $12 million for museum grants, $6 million for symphony orchestras, $5 million for a pilot study to track Michigan drivers as the first step toward a road use tax, and $3 million for electric bike incentives, among other priorities.

Republicans offered hundreds of budget amendments, and all were rejected, including efforts to block Whitmer’s teacher retirement raid.

“It’s appalling that Lansing Democrats would ever consider raiding the retirement funds of our hardworking educators – let along cast their vote to greenlight the raid during Teacher Appreciation Week,” Rep. Jaime Greene, R-Richmond, said when House Democrats approved their budget in May. “The teacher retirement fund is there as a promise to our teachers for their years of service and dedication – not to serve as a piggy bank for politicians to dip into whenever they see fit.”

Greene noted that the broader Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System remains about $24.4 billion in debt, and pointed to predictions from economists that there’s a 50% chance the health care portion will revert to the red if the state doesn’t make its payments and the fund underperforms.

“Let’s call this what it is: a betrayal of trust to every teacher who selflessly pours their heart into our classrooms,” she said. “We must prioritize the needs of our educators and reject any attempt to pillage the funds set aside for our retirees.”

Democrats who control the House and Senate, elected with strong support from the state’s teachers unions, continue to sort differences between proposed budgets in conference committees. The budget deadline is July 1, with no obligation to meet it. The 2025 fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.