August 14, 2020
Honorable Members of the Legislature,
A deal is being worked on to address some of the issues we have raised in the past regarding what schools need to properly open in the coming weeks. While we appreciate the efforts to address these concerns, the timing could not be worse. Announcing a plan and voting on it in the same 24-hour period, while also over the weekend, does not allow districts the opportunity to review it and/or weigh in. Practically speaking, the deadline to turn in our School Board-approved Return to Learn plans has effectively come and gone. We are all in this together and want a quality outcome for our students, staff, and communities. That will not be the case if the voices of stakeholders are not considered and the deal is rushed through without feedback.
Michigan school leaders are working around the clock to plan for the next school year without a state budget in place and an unprecedented amount of uncertainty regarding the challenges they face because of COVID-19. While we appreciate the urgency with which the legislature is approaching these issues and understand the circumstances that necessitated the delay in action, we ask for the legislature to rethink the process of rolling out this plan. While it is our goal to see a resolution that provides more certainty to districts, this process is rushed and not inclusive. We ask that you avoid taking votes on concepts and policy that have not been evaluated by stakeholders. Further we suggest that, instead, you pause shortly to allow for the feedback of superintendents, school administrators, teachers, and parents.
As you continue toward a final product to present to stakeholders, we urge you to work toward these goals:
First, it is imperative that the requirement for 1098 hours be waived. Districts need to provide a variety of schedule structures including non-traditional instructional methods. These innovative schedules are not uniform across the state, and were ultimately decided by experts in the field, local school boards, staff input, and parent feedback. Schools across the state share a common goal in educating our students in the best way possible, but the method by which content will be delivered has been determined locally. This was outlined under E.O. 2020-142 and implemented in the Governor’s Return to School Roadmap. Therefore, subjecting a uniform statewide requirement of 1098 hours is not consistent with the flexibility granted to school districts through executive order.
Second, any proposal that requires additional assessment detracts from student learning. Our children are already subject to many assessments, including locally developed assessments that truly result in improved instruction and student learning. Layering on multiple mandates serves no purpose, while only exacerbating testing fatigue. Since March, the lives of 1.5 million Michigan students have been completely disrupted. Our teachers and students have continued with instruction despite the added challenges. Many have also been affected by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic. To layer on a mandated testing regime during this time shows a complete and utter disconnect from the hard work that has been happening and will continue into the 2020-21 school year and will pull the attention of teachers toward test prep, rather than student needs.
Third, it is vital that the legislature make the necessary changes in law to allow districts to use the greater of their pupil membership count between the previous or current school year. Given the predicted volatility in student counts and the lack of certainty around the foundation allowance, district leaders need this certainty to ensure that the level of service we know we will need to provide is funded. Local district funding should not be reduced because of changes in pupil enrollment due to COVID-19.
Thank you for your consideration. We stand ready to assist in crafting a solution that will help district leaders and educators deliver the high-quality education Michiganders expect from their public schools.
Dr. Tina Kerr, Executive Director, MASA
Dr. William Miller, Executive Director, MAISA
Don Wotruba, CAE, Executive Director, MASB