News From the Capitol, Feb. 19, 2021

2021-02-19 | Michigan Association of School Boards

  • Appropriations Committees Begin Hearings on Governor’s Budget
  • New CDC Guidelines for Re-Opening Schools Released
  • Senate Passes Tax Exemptions for Broadband Equipment
  • Senate Panel Considers Regional Board of Education Bill
  • Ask the Governor to Allow In-Person Meetings
  • Registration Open for April Behind the Scenes at the Capitol

Appropriations Committees Begin Hearings on Governor’s Budget

Earlier this week, both the House and Senate K-12 Appropriations Subcommittees began taking testimony on the Governor’s budget recommendations. The House Fiscal Agency provided an overview of the budget before the House panel, while the Senate Fiscal Agency and the State Budget Office presented before the Senate Committee. Many of the committee members' questions focused on the amount of one-time spending and new programs in the budget. There was also considerable discussion on the Governor’s proposal to reduce the per-pupil amount for cyber charter schools.

These hearings are the first of many as the legislature begins its budget deliberations. MASB will monitor these discussions closely and meet with members of the committees to advocate on behalf of our member priorities. We’ll have more details on the budget recommendations in the upcoming issue of DashBoard.

New CDC Guidelines for Re-Opening Schools Released

Last week Friday, the Centers for Disease Control unveiled updated guidance on how schools can open safely. The new guidance breaks community indicators into four categories: low transmission (blue), moderate transmission (yellow), substantial transmission (orange) and high transmission (red). These indicators are based on the number of cases and positivity rates over the preceding seven days. These indicators are designed to help districts determine when it is safe for them to have in-person instruction.

The guidance also listed five key mitigation strategies: proper mask-wearing, social distancing, handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting, and contact tracing. They suggest implementing all five strategies to provide schools the best chance to prevent potential outbreaks. More information on the guidelines is available on the CDC website.

Senate Passes Tax Exemptions for Broadband Equipment

On Thursday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 46 by a vote of 20-15. This bill would exempt broadband equipment from the Personal Property Tax beginning on Dec. 31, 2020. To be eligible, the equipment must resolve a lack of broadband service by delivering high-speed internet access at speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and three Mbps upstream.

The bill was touted as a way to get broadband into underserved areas. However, concerns were raised, including by MASB, about the effect this will have on revenue streams to our schools and local communities. As introduced, this bill also included new equipment used to replace current equipment, which would have had a much larger impact. During debate in committee this was removed, and it now applies only to new equipment.

While MASB supports the expanse of broadband and understands its need, we also believe there are other ways to accomplish this without a detrimental effect on revenues for local schools.

The bill is now before the House Committee on Communications and Technology.

Senate Panel Considers Regional Board of Education Bill

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness took testimony on Senate Bill 121. This legislation would require political parties to nominate candidates for the State Board of Education from regions instead of statewide.

The bill is aimed at creating more diverse representation on the board. Currently, the board is predominately made up of members from southeast Michigan. The concern raised was that districts in other parts of the state are not being well represented because the current members do not understand the unique challenges those areas face. No action was taken on the bill, although it is expected that the committee will meet again to vote on the bill.

The committee also heard testimony from parents experiencing difficulty accessing special education services they need for their children. Their testimony focused on their frustration of continually advocating with their districts over the appropriate services being delivered.

Finally, the panel heard testimony from two charter school officials on the mental health impact the pandemic has caused for their students. They shared students were struggling due to distant learning and how the school was attempting to address these concerns.

Ask the Governor to Allow In-Person Meetings

As you know, in-person school board meetings continue to be prohibited until at least March 30, 2021. MASB has submitted a letter to MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel requesting the ability for boards to meet in person as soon as possible. We continue to have conversations with the Governor’s office and MDHHS on this issue but have yet to see movement. We have prepared a resolution your board can adopt urging the allowance of in-person meetings. If your board decides to pursue this, please be sure to share it with the Governor’s officeMDHHS and MASB Government Relations.

Registration Open for April Behind the Scenes at the Capitol

Our spring Behind the Scenes at the Capitol event is scheduled for Monday, April 26 from 9 a.m. to noon. Join the MASB Government Relations staff for a look into how things work in Lansing. The event will include an update on the state budget, a discussion on broadband access and other important legislative topics. There will also be an opportunity to engage your state legislators. Due to continuing concerns over COVID-19, this year’s event will be offered virtually. Registration is now open and we encourage you to register today!