by Scott McClallen
The Michigan Senate Saturday passed a three-bill package aiming to provide clarity to kids, educators, and parents for the fall school year.
The package requires two student assessments; one within nine weeks of beginning the school year and another by the end of the year for districts to receive funding.
The plan ties 75 percent of enrollment counts to the previous year and 25 percent to the upcoming year for per-pupil funding, addressing concerns that many parents may transfer students to another district with a preferred learning method or to another option such as homeschool or cyberschool.
The plan waives for the upcoming year the previous requirement for schools to conduct a minimum of 180 days and 1,098 hours of school.
School boards must publicly reevaluate their learning method plan every 30 days and take comments from parents and guardians.
The bills also require “at least one two-way interaction per month for at least 75% of pupils” to receive full state aid, according to the bill summary.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, along with Democrat and Republican leaders announced a compromise late Friday night, saying it would bring peace of mind to students, parents, and educators.
“The bipartisan bills we passed today 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,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, tweeted Saturday.
The previous Republican plan required in-person education for students in kindergarten through the fifth grade.
The main bill, HB 5913, passed with a vote of 23-15.
Sen. Ericka Geiss, D-Taylor, voted against the bill, opposing the required academic benchmarks.
“[Teachers] are begging us to not add more tasks and tracking benchmarks on top of what exists, particularly when they are already trying to do more with less and have less than adequate funding,” Geiss said on the floor.
Rep. Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, backed the plan.
“This plan accomplishes my two priorities: keeping kids safe and continuing to advance their education no matter the mode of instruction,” Hornberger said in a statement. “I’m pleased we were able to come to this solution with the governor.”
The Michigan Education Association (MEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) issued a joint statement supporting the bills.
“Legislative compromises are never perfect, and the revised versions of HB 5911-13 under consideration in the Senate today are no exception,” MEA President Paula Herbart and ADT President David Hecker said.
“However, those bills provide students, parents, educators, and districts both certainty and flexibility on key issues as we head into the 2020-2021 school year.”
Other educators were displeased by the compromise.
The “governor and legislature abandoned leadership responsibilities and avoided challenges from unions, charters and parents and simply dumped everything on boards and superintendents,” Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools Community District Nikolai Vitti tweeted Friday night.
The House is scheduled to vote on the legislation Monday.
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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.