The State Legislature returns to Lansing this week after Spring Break to a long “to do” list of important topics for public education.
Federal COVID Relief and 2021-22 Education Budgets
With COVID-19 cases on the rise, ensuring safety and student learning assistance are critical. The Legislature still has $841 million in federal COVID relief funding from December to send out to schools to help with the increased costs of safely and consistently educating Michigan students during the pandemic – and the recently-passed American Rescue Plan contained another $3.7 billion for Michigan schools that needs to be distributed to help with these costs over the months to come.
These funds are needed in local school districts immediately to pay for COVID mitigation measures (including high-cost fixes such as air quality systems) and to ensure students have access to learning opportunities to help them continue learning post-pandemic. Lawmakers need to end partisan gamesmanship around these critical funds and send them to school districts today.
Once that’s done, the State House and Senate also need to begin work on the 2021-22 state education budgets, which they’re scheduled to have completed by the end of June. Gov. Whitmer’s proposal from February contains much needed increases to help students move forward post-pandemic and to address decades of underfunding Michigan’s public schools by state government.
Evaluation, Third Grade Reading and Other Testing-Related Measures
With the U.S. Department of Education’s failure to waive this spring’s standardized testing requirements, many students are taking the M-STEP, MME, PSAT and SAT as early this week. However, with the federal waiver on test-based accountability requirements, lawmakers need to move quickly on issues related to how test data is used under state law, such as removing student growth data from teacher evaluations and eliminating third grade reading retention rules.
Some of these issues are part of a package of Senate Republican bills introduced before Spring Break, including SBs 56-57 and 260 dealing with evaluation and SB 265 to postpone reading retention for this school year. However, these pressing issues are “tie barred” to other legislation in the package, meaning all the bills need to pass or none do. MEA is urging Senators to break those tiebars so that these time sensitive issues can be taken up right away.
Reject More Paperwork and Bureaucracy – Respect Educators’ Professional Judgement
That Senate package also includes some negative legislation, such as SB 264 (which would form a committee of political appointees to replace the M-STEP) and SB 266 (which would require individual recovery plans for all Michigan students by Aug. 14). Instead of more bureaucracy and paperwork, lawmakers should listen to educators and respect their professional opinions. Political panels shouldn’t be making testing decisions without input from teachers and other education experts. And one-on-one attention from educators is the solution to ensuring continued growth among students – not more state-mandated paperwork.
Solving the Educators Shortage – No Quick Fixes
With an uptick in mid-year retirements and school employees leaving the profession, the educator shortage has been a continuous topic of media coverage. Already a crisis, the pandemic exacerbated the shortage of teachers and other education employees, including substitutes. Instead of dealing with a long-term problem with long-term solutions, however, shortsighted legislation would make it so any school employee or worker for the district can be a sub – and take away your rights to bargain about it. MEA is opposed to HBs 4293-94, which would sunset the “anyone can sub” provision in five years but permanently ban collective bargaining over substitutes.
Bills to Ensure School Bus Safety
The House is considering a package of bills designed to improve safety on Michigan school busses. Two of the bills, HBs 4201 & 4203, would prohibit unauthorized individuals from entering a school bus without the driver’s permission and allow for notices on busses about the prohibition. HBs 4202 & 4204 aim to prevent drivers from passing stopped busses by allowing for the installation of camera systems on bus stop arms and provide for that footage to be used in traffic violation proceedings to punish violators. MEA supports these bipartisan bills.
To contact your State Senator and Representative about any of these critical topics, visit www.mea.org/mylegislators. Stay tuned for updates and calls to action from MEA!