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MI Senate approves Return to Learn plan where school districts determine instructional days, hours

Legislation heads to the House for approval
Posted at 1:56 PM, Aug 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-15 18:27:49-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — The Senate on Saturday approved the bipartisan Return to Learn plan that would help make sure Michigan students receive a safe education when school resumes in the coming weeks.

Under the Return to Learn plan, school districts must develop health and safety guidelines for all in-person instruction. The guidelines must leverage local data and be developed in consultation with county health departments. They should help inform staff, parents and students, and members of the community as to how and why certain instruction models are selected, according to the senators.

“Nothing is more important than providing students a great education in a safe learning environment,” said Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, chair of the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee. “The Return to Learn plan will help students achieve by ensuring local school districts are empowered to make the best health and safety decisions for their communities.”

The plan gives districts flexibility on the total number of mandated instructional days and hours, as long as a full school year’s worth of instruction is provided. The legislation also requires regular two-way interaction between students and teachers, regardless of how they are offering classes. This is intended to ensure students enrolled in distance learning options receive the benefit of personal attention.

Under the plan, funding would be determined using a blend of the 2019-2020 school year pupil count and the 2020-2021 school year pupil count. The blended average will help ensure stability in funding levels.

The plan also requires benchmark testing to be conducted in the classroom, online or at home. Test results will be shared with parents, so they understand children’s learning needs, and they will be used by each school district to establish academic goals.

“Entrusting local education leaders with the flexibility to make more and better decisions will increase opportunities for educational enrichment and help improve student achievement,” Theis said. “The Return to Learn plan will help them accomplish that.”

Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart and American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker released this statement in support of the compromise legislation:

“Legislative compromises are never perfect, and the revised versions of HB 5911-13 under consideration in the Senate today are no exception. However, these bills provide students, parents, educators and districts both certainty and flexibility on key issues as we head into the 2020-21 school year."

“MEA and AFT Michigan hope these bills are adopted, so that we can move forward with other important issues, especially a budget for the coming school year that fully addresses the financial needs of schools to keep students, educators and families safe during this pandemic.”

Though, some education groups believe the Senate rushed the passage of the school bills and continue to ignore the needs of educators.

The Tri-County Alliance for Public Education released the following statement from Executive Director Robert McCann in response to Saturday's passage of return to school plans in the Senate:

“Despite the resounding opposition from schools after this poorly thought out plan was announced last night, the Senate has rushed it through, continuing to ignore the real needs of our schools and our students. The hurried passage of the “return to learn” plan in the Senate demonstrates checking a box instead of doing the work required to respond to schools’ actual needs for the fall. Despite months of requests from educators across the state for commonsense solutions that provide flexibility and funding for schools, today’s legislation will only make it harder for every district to successfully deliver students the support they deserve this fall. Before this legislation goes any further, the Governor and the Legislature should go back to the drawing board, bring educators into the discussion and provide the solutions schools have been asking for for months.”

The legislation now heads to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to receive final approval and be sent to the governor for her signature. The House is scheduled to convene on Monday.

View all three House bills below:

  • House Bill No. 5911

HB 5911 (S-1) by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

  • House Bill N0. 5912

HB 5912 (S-2) by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd

  • House Bill No. 5913

HB 5913 (S-1) by WXYZ-TV Channel 7 Detroit on Scribd