Whitmer signs Michigan return-to-learn COVID-19 school bills package

'These bills will help schools implement their comprehensive safety plans'

(Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, AP)

The Michigan governor has signed a bipartisan “Return to Learn” package of bills outlining instructional requirements for the 2020-2021 school year.

Under the new law, Michigan schools that deem it safe to provide in-person classes during the coronavirus pandemic would have to prioritize the option for K-5 students. It will also largely base districts’ state funding on last year’s pupil count to account for enrollment uncertainty in coming weeks.

The package needed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature after the Michigan House approved it earlier this week. The agreement was first reached Friday by the governor and legislative leadership just ahead of Saturday’s special Senate session.

According to Whitmer’s office, the bills package provides “significant financial stability to districts by primarily using last year’s pupil count to determine this year’s funding levels.”

“Over the past week, we have taken crucial steps to help Michigan schools and families navigate the new school year. Alongside this bipartisan agreement, I announced nearly $65 million in federal funding to help give students, parents, educators, and support staff the resources they need to provide the best and most safe education possible,” said Whitmer. “These bills will help schools implement their comprehensive safety plans going into the 2020-21 school year. I am proud of this bipartisan package and will continue working with everyone who wants to ensure our schools are safe during COVID-19. These are great steps, but we will need a comprehensive bipartisan plan and funding from the federal government. It is time the Republicans in Congress to do their part to protect families and students across the country.”

The agreement, which does not include state school funding for the state fiscal year that begins in one-and-a-half months, was criticized by superintendents and backed by teacher unions. It would waive a requirement that schools have 1,098 hours and 180 days of instruction. They must still provide the educational or course content that would have been delivered in a typical academic year.

Republicans agreed to remove a House-proposed requirement that schools offer in-person learning to K-5 students. Many districts, facing pressure from teachers and mixed reaction among parents, are starting with remote-only instruction due to COVID-19.

Highlights of the return-to-school deal look like this:

  • $583 in federal coronavirus relief funds dedicated to schools
  • $350 per pupil
  • More than $50 million in hazard pay for educators
  • $18 million for safety measures and local benchmark assessments to figure out how kids are doing.
  • A 75/25 formula to determine attendance, meaning that 75% will be counted from last year’s total of students versus 25% from online attendance

What’s required from school districts

Districts must submit their return plans, which should include educational goals and a description of how instruction will be delivered. Under each plan, schools are required to describe how instruction will be delivered, giving school districts the ability to provide instruction in-person at school or a different location, online, digitally, or any other remote means of learning. Districts are also required to describe how instruction for core academic areas provided under the learning plan will expose each student to standards comparable to in-person instruction and a description of how student progress will be graded or reported.

Furthermore, districts must describe how they will ensure students with disabilities will be provided with equitable access to instruction accommodation as well as describe how students will be provided with equitable access to technology and internet if instruction is virtual.

The legislation ensures that students are engaged in learning by requiring consistent two-way interactions between students and teachers. As districts develop their plans they are required to work with their local health departments and employees to develop district wide guidelines and key metrics from local data. COVID-19 learning plans must be submitted to its ISD or authorizing body by October 1, 2020.

House Bills 5911, 5912, and 5913 were tie-barred and sponsored by Representative Gregory Markkanen, Representative Andrea Schroeder, and Representative Annette Glenn.

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.