8/17/20 – Michigan Senate-passed education bills

(Mlive) – Michigan lawmakers are firming up a framework for schools to get kids back to the classroom this fall – whether it’s in-person, virtual or some mix of both.

The Michigan Senate on Saturday voted through a plan leaving it to local districts to determine reopening methods and guidelines, taking local COVID-19 metrics and recommendations from individual health departments into account. In a rare weekend session, senators approved the main bill in the package, House Bill 5913, and House Bill 5912 in 23-15 votes and House Bill 5911 in a 23-14 vote.

The final version of the bills reflect an agreement reached by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and leadership in the Republican-majority Legislature, announced Friday night and drafted into legislation Saturday.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake,  wrote on social media the bills “reflect our commitment to ensuring students receive a quality education and empowers schools to make decisions that are in the best interest of students this fall.”

Reactions to the plan were mixed. Teachers’ unions announced their support of the legislation ahead of its passage, although some educators rallied on the Capitol lawn Saturday to protest in-person learning this fall.

School administrators and superintendents are concerned the legislation further complicates back-to-school plans already in motion and doesn’t address state funding uncertainties.

On the Senate floor, most Senate Democrats were unconvinced the plan was the right approach. Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said the current version is “disconnected from the reality that we are facing” while pushing for an amendment to base this year’s funding on previous student counts.

The Michigan House is expected to take up the package during its Monday session. Here’s a breakdown of what lawmakers and the administration came up with.

Schools won’t see a mandate from the state to resume in-person instruction for any grade level this fall.

A House-passed version of the plan included a requirement that schools provide options for in-person classes for young students in grades K-5.

That idea was scrapped in the negotiated deal. Many of the state’s largest school districts, including Ann Arbor Public Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools and Lansing Public Schools, had already approved plans to start the year remotely.

Once a school district determines it is safe to resume in-person instruction, the package includes a provision that districts prioritize getting elementary school students back to the classroom first.

Michigan school districts have been busy this summer putting together back-to-school plans and determining the methods their schools would be using to educate kids.

Under the legislative deal, administrators will have to revisit those plans publicly, once a month.

School boards will be required to review their district’s instruction plans on a monthly basis and provide opportunity for public comment before re-certifying the method of instruction or making any changes.