On Tuesday, June 23, the House and Senate GOP unveiled the details of their own “Return to Learn” plan, about a week ahead of the Governor’s Return to Learn Advisory Council. The plan includes a list of policy recommendations and $1.3 billion of federal funding to Michigan schools to help safely reopen next school year.
First, the money. The one-pager distributed at the press conference details that the $1.3 billion would come in the form of:
- $800 per pupil to K-12 schools to implement robust distance learning plans and health and safety measures to return students safely to the classroom.
- A one-time payment of $500 for frontline teachers.
- $80 million to ISDs to assist schools in coordinating and implementing distance learning plans and safe learning measures.
Taking a closer look at the bills, the funding component leaves a few questions left unanswered. At first blush, the dollars appear to be additional dollars above and beyond what we have already budgeted, but it’s not clear that’s the outcome. With only $1.3 billion being appropriated for the above-mentioned items, if no other money comes through, we have several considerations:
- If the $1.3 billion is for the current fiscal year, that would close out FY 20 without a proration necessarily, but if the dollars are distributed for the above purposes, they are more restrictive so it’s not clear they would actually fill the funding gap, rather just provide different, more restrictive dollars for a fiscal that ends in less than a week, leaving districts in the untenable position of spending down fund balance or going into deficit. The bill does allow for,”Other expenses incurred after March 1, 2020 as part of a robust distance learning plan and safe return to school including, but not limited to, salaries and benefit costs.” This could be a way to back fill the current year budget, but is in no way additional funding.
- If the $1.3 billion is for next year, the same issues present themselves as the budget shortfall is about a billion dollars, so this “additional” funding isn’t additional, it’s merely a backstop, with restrictions.
- The third consideration is that it’s not clear the CARES Act allows these dollars to be spent in this way.
While it’s important that the proposal recognizes the reality of added costs for a safe restart to school, these dollars fall significantly short of being able to hold budgets harmless while also providing added resources.
From a policy perspective, it’s much more complicated. The one-pager highlights six areas of policy change in the bills, but of course, only at a high level. We are reviewing the bills (which have not been formally introduced yet) for more details, but recognize that these bills are more than likely a starting point for discussion and are separate from the Return to School Roadmap that we anticipate the Governor’s Return to Learn Advisory Council will release on June 30. As you know, this is expected to include input from a wide range of stakeholders and will have more guidance than the plan released this week.
The initial one-pager of the plan indicates there would be an emphasis on flexibility for districts, giving them the power to start and stop instruction as needed and would redefine certain words – such as the definition of attendance – to allow for schools to meet seat time requirements as they engage in learning from a distance. The plan also relies heavily on schools and local health departments to answer the difficult questions regarding student and staff health and safety protocols.
It also would require schools to utilize benchmark assessments to provide information to both parents and teachers about where a student still needs help. There are many more details in the bills and we will have a more detailed analysis in the Friday update.
We are glad that the discussion has started, but anticipate much more detail from the roadmap that will be released on June 30.
Review the bill package: