The state House on Monday approved a compromise package of bills that provides answers about student counts for school funding, benchmark testing and other important matters as the 2020-21 school year begins amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Bills 5911-13 now go to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for a signature after passing the state Senate in a rare Saturday session over the weekend. The bipartisan compromise replaces a GOP plan approved by the House last month and opposed by MEA and AFT Michigan.
In a joint statement, MEA President Paula Herbart and AFT Michigan President David Hecker called for the passage of the bills Saturday morning, saying, “Legislative compromises are never perfect, and the revised versions of HB 5911-13 under consideration in the Senate today are no exception. However, these bills provide students, parents, educators and districts both certainty and flexibility on key issues as we head into the 2020-21 school year.”
The statement pointed ahead to legislative action on other important issues, “especially a budget for the coming school year that fully addresses the financial needs of schools to keep students, educators and families safe during this pandemic.”
Thanks to intense lobbying efforts by MEA members, leaders and staff, the bills do not contain many of the onerous provisions passed last month by the State House, including outsourcing of virtual teaching and mandatory in-person classes for K-5.
The compromise legislation – which now heads to the State House for final passage in their special session on Monday – makes a variety of changes only for the 2020-21 school year:
- Student count for funding will be based on a blend of 75% of last year’s count and 25% of this year’s count (with each continuing to be based 90% of the fall count and 10% on the winter count). This provision minimizes the impact of students moving between districts under schools of choice, as well as to for-profit cyber charters, which have advertised aggressively to siphon students from traditional schools amidst the pandemic.
- Attendance for virtual learning will be determined based on the concept of “two-way interactions” between a student and teacher (the method currently used by cyber charters). This will be used in several ways:
- For state funding count purposes, for a student to be counted they need one two-way interaction per week for four weeks (the week of the traditional count day, plus the following three weeks).
- For determining the 75% attendance requirement (to ensure full payment of the foundation allowance), at least one two-way interaction per month is required.
- For regular reporting to local boards (see more below), districts will look for two two-way interactions per week.
- Days and hours requirements are waived for 2020-21, but the expectation is that districts are to provide the same level of content as they would over 1,098 hours and 180 days.
- There will be required K-8 benchmark assessments twice during the school year (once during the first 9 weeks and again at the end of the year), using one of five approved tests from MDE (including a no-cost option) or an approved local assessment. That data will be reported to the state in an aggregated form and cannot be used for accountability purposes. These benchmarks are also not “summative” assessments, as required for evaluation or third grade reading requirements.
- Local districts will receive in-depth public health data from county health departments to monitor needs for moving between in-person and virtual instruction, or some hybrid combination of the two. While the phased approach under the Governor’s Roadmap will remain as is (and there’s no changes to phases at this time), local districts can use that data to make decisions. County health departments will also be able recommend that districts close if local data warrants.
- School districts will have to set academic goals by Sept. 15, approved by both the school board and MDE and posted publicly on their websites, but there are no accountability measures attached to achievement of those goals. By Oct. 1, school boards need to approve (and then reapprove monthly, with public comment, or make adjustments) plans that function as a seat time waiver, including the weekly two-way interaction reporting, the academic goals and the public health information outlined above.
- Kindergarten readiness assessments will not be required for 2020-21.
MEA will be doing in-depth analysis of the bills once passed in the House and signed by the Governor in order to provide guidance to locals on how this legislation will be implemented. For now, the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis is available here and the final bills passed by the Senate are also online (HB 5911, HB 5912 and HB 5913).
Also related to the start of the school year, Gov. Whitmer announced Friday that, thanks to a partnership with Ford and FEMA, 4 million masks would be available for free to those in need, including schools.
During the press conference, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive in the state, said the one thing all schools that are opening can do to limit the spread of COVID-19 is wear masks.
“I encourage every school superintendent who is developing plans for in person instruction to mandate masks for children of all ages. Even in a classroom setting,” Khaldun said.
MEA is on record that mask wearing for all ages should be required for in-person learning, as well as other “strongly recommended” practices outlined for Phase 4 of the Return to School Roadmap.
MEA Member Voices: Kathleen Dillon-Dowd: Schools must require masks for all grades