FILE - Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the Department of Education building Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Washington. 

(The Center Square) – The criticism of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hasn’t stopped for her line-item veto of $155 million funding for struggling K-5 students without explanation.

On WJR’s Paul. W. Smith show, former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos slammed Whitmer for the veto, saying, “Gov. Whitmer is so controlled by big union bosses she can’t see around the corner to do what’s right for kids.”

Whitmer signed the landmark $17 billion School Aid bill into law aiming to eliminate the funding gap between districts at the minimum and maximum foundation allowances.

The budget includes $723 million to eliminate the gap between the minimum and maximum foundation allowance by setting both at $8,700 per pupil, an increase of $589 per pupil from the current year minimum amount, and an increase of $171 per pupil from the current year target amount. Intermediate school districts will receive a 4% operational funding increase.

House Bill 4411 would have disbursed $155 million to Grand Valley State University (GVSU) to start a grant program for struggling students. Whitmer’s office hasn't yet responded to a request for comment on why she used her line-item veto power.

Whitmer wrote in her veto letter the bill “makes historic investments in Michigan’s kids without raising taxes” but gave no reason for slashing $155 million to fund COVID-19 learning loss recovery for low-income students, children with disabilities, and foster kids.

Eligible children would have had to be enrolled in kindergarten through 5th grade, be less than proficient in reading based on available assessment data, and the child would have had to have applied for a reading scholarship through the grant program.

“It is indefensible that @GovWhitmer killed a program to help kids improve their reading skills. 2/3rds of MI kids aren’t proficient, and that was before Whitmer’s school lockdowns… just more proof she only cares about politics,” DeVos tweeted Tuesday.

The bill had bipartisan support.

The now-stricken bill language would have allowed GVSU to spend up to $1,000 per child on tutoring services, instruction materials, or specialized summer learning to recover from learning loss after a year some kids entirely learned remotely.

Eligible children would have had to be enrolled in kindergarten through 5th grade, be less than proficient in reading based on available assessment data, and the child would have had to applied for a reading scholarship through the grant program.

Smith said on his show that Whitmer “has opposed and vetoed what school administrators had opposed. $155 million going directly to help kids read, which is fundamental. If you can’t read, you cannot advance in our society, period. And yet, this $155 million is said to be better spent elsewhere. Tell me what’s better than helping kids how to read who haven’t been taught in the public schools how to read, which should be an embarrassment for all, and this just underscores this embarrassment. I can’t believe how stupid these people are.”

Tori Sachs, executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, said the veto exacerbated COVID-19 learning loss from shuttered schools.

“Governor Whitmer’s anti-science school closures created massive learning gaps, and her answer to billions in new federal aid is to slash $155 million in reading scholarships for struggling kids,” Sachs said in a statement. “Whitmer’s school cuts might make union bosses happy, but they hurt Michigan’s kids. Of course, Michigan parents who’ve fought and scrapped to help their kids during the pandemic know that’s nothing new for this governor.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.