Lansing lawmakers announce agreement for new school year on Return to Learn; approved by Senate

State lawmakers announced a new deal regarding the upcoming school year Friday night to help get students safely back to class under the Return to Learn plan whether it’s in-person, online, or a hybrid approach. The bills passed Saturday in the state Senate, with the House planning to vote on Monday.

The agreement announced Friday gives each district local control while getting financial help and while encouraging oversight with benchmark assessments.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Sen. Mike Shirkey, Sen. Jim Ananich, Rep. Lee Chatfield, and Rep. Christine Greig issued the following joint statement after reaching a bipartisan deal regarding the upcoming 2020-2021 school year.  

"Today, we reached a bipartisan deal that will give students, parents, educators, and support staff much needed support, flexibility, and certainty as we approach the new school year. They deserve peace of mind about what the next few months will hold in store, and this legislation will provide it." 

Rep. Andrea Schroeder said the plan will allow school districts to determine the best course of action for their own students and families. 

The measures include oversight to keep learning on track, and provide additional financial support. In-person attendance is not required at any grade level, but it’s strongly encouraged for grades K-5 when it can be done safely.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the plan over the next few days.

Highlights of the plan include:

  • Local control. Working with local health departments, school districts will continue to decide the best approach for instruction based on the specific situations and needs within their own communities.
  • Accountability and oversight. School boards will be required to reexamine and recertify how they are delivering instruction to students at their monthly board meetings for the duration of the 2020-21 school year. Schroeder said this will give parents and others in the community a chance to voice concerns and spark modifications when necessary. Benchmark assessments will provide detailed information to parents and teachers about where a student needs additional help to ensure they stay on track.
  • Financial support. The Legislature already has approved a total of $583 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds to be dedicated to Michigan schools, including $350 per student across the board, ensuring schools have the resources they need. The funding includes more than $50 million in hazard pay for educators who have been flexible and innovative during the COVID-19 pandemic, and $18 million for safety measures and benchmark assessments to ensure student learning stays on track.

“How to best educate our children during the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge faced by schools and families in every Michigan community," Schroeder said in a statement. "This plan acknowledges that no two communities might address that challenge in exactly the same way, based on their unique circumstances,” said Schroeder, of Oakland County’s Independence Township. “I am pleased the governor and Legislature are coming to an agreement on how best to proceed with the all-important question of how to continue student learning during these unprecedented times.”

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 under legislation approved by the state Senate.

The bills passed Saturday would also largely base districts' state funding on last year's pupil count to account for enrollment uncertainty. They reflect a deal announced Friday by legislative leaders and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The agreement would waive a requirement that schools have 1,098 hours and 180 days of instruction.

Republicans agreed to remove a House-proposed requirement that schools offer in-person learning to K-5 students.

The House plans to vote on Monday.