Michigan Legislature gives schools flexibility in pandemic

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan legislators gave final approval Monday to bills that would provide flexibility for K-12 schools as they prepare to open amid the coronavirus pandemic, waiving physical attendance and minimum instruction requirements to allow for remote classes.

The legislation, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will sign, would give districts and charter schools the option to choose in-person instruction, online or a hybrid based on consulting with local health departments. Their student count, the foundation of state funding, would be weighted heavily toward last year’s figure and less so on uncertain enrollment in the new academic year.

The plan utilizes innovative methods of instruction and keeps kids safe “without jeopardizing their education,” said House Education Committee Chairwoman Pamela Hornberger, a Republican from Macomb County’s Chesterfield Township.

The measures were passed on 77-33, 77-29 and 81-25 bipartisan votes in the GOP-controlled House two days after clearing the Republican-led Senate following a deal with the Democratic governor.

The bills would revise how attendance is linked to funding. Currently, districts must have 75% average daily attendance to get their full state aid. Instead, schools would have to make sure there are two-way interactions between 75% of students and their teachers.

Districts also would have to administer a benchmark assessment to K-8 students twice, including once in the first nine weeks.

Lawmakers who voted against the bills said they should not include testing requirements nor burden schools with monthly reporting rules. Some also said the new funding formula would hurt certain districts.

“It brings greater uncertainty in school funding and includes almost no feedback from the educators who will be tasked with putting the requirements in place,” said Democratic Rep. Darrin Camilleri of Trenton.

The agreement does not yet tell schools their actual per-student funding despite their starting in late August or early September. Michigan is bracing for a $3 billion budget shortfall because of lower tax revenues associated with the COVID-19 outbreak.