News From the Capitol, May 28, 2021

2021-05-28 | Michigan Association of School Boards

  • Governor Announces School Appropriations Priorities
  • MASB Testifies in Senate Committee on Third Grade Reading
  • Substitute Teacher Law Changes Pass House
  • School Bus Safety Legislation Receives Senate Hearing
  • Senate Education Begins Testimony on Transgendered Students Playing Sports
  • False Active Shooter Bill Moves to the Senate
  • Asbestos Construction Package Moves to the House Floor
  • Advocacy Institute Coming Soon!

Governor Announces School Appropriations Priorities

On Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer laid out her priorities for schools for the upcoming fiscal year and for use of the federal American Recovery Plan funding. This was in response to the large surplus the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference projected last week. Yesterday’s announcement only covered school aid funding. She is planning to make other announcements in upcoming days on other spending priorities.

Three of MASB’s budget suggestions were included in the proposal:

  • Closing the foundation gap. The proposal increases the foundation allowance by 4% and includes a one-time payment to bring every district up to the target per-pupil amount. This would finally close the gap and end the minimum per-pupil foundation.
  • Increasing resources for school mental health professionals and services. The proposal includes $450 million over three years for hiring school social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurses. It also includes $50 million for student loan debt relief for the mental and physical health staff who work in high-need districts and an additional $50 million in student mental health programs.
  • Creating state support for school infrastructure. The proposal includes $500 million in new funding for school infrastructure. While this will not cover all the needs across the state, it is a start and she indicated that the state hopes to see more money for this purpose in the infrastructure plan currently being debated in Congress.

Other parts of the proposal include $350 million for declining enrollment funding over two years and creating weighted funding formulas for at-risk, special education, English Language Learners, career and technical education, and isolated and rural districts.

The proposal is a framework to help guide negotiations with the Legislature so it does not include a lot of details. We expect budget negotiations to kick into high gear next week. The Legislature is aiming to finish the budget by mid to late June.

MASB Testifies in Senate Committee on Third Grade Reading

On Wednesday, the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee considered a bill to suspend the retention portion of the third grade reading law for this year. MASB supported the bill, Senate Bill 265, as it was introduced to allow students to continue to receive supports for reading but advance with their peers to the fourth grade. Retention this year would penalize students who, through no fault of their own, may not have received the same level of supports due to the pandemic.

However, during committee, the bill was changed to suspend retention for this year but require it of third and fourth graders next year. Because of this, we oppose the bill. This change puts an additional burden on our districts for retention, classroom assignments and reporting and, more importantly, is unfair to those students going into fifth grade next year to suddenly be subject to retention.

Testimony began with the original sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), who had removed his name as sponsor due to the change in the bill to add fourth graders. He stated he did not support the change to his bill and was not consulted and therefore now opposed it. MASB testified following him (beginning at the 13:25 mark) with our opposition to this bill and Senate Bill 268 that was also before the committee.

Senate Bill 268 would require a district to retain a student if a parent requests it before July 1 of each year. We believe this should not be an automatic response. Instead, we asked for a change to require a meeting between the parent with the school about the student and their needs. Through this conversation it may be decided that retention is in the best interest of the child, but it would also allow other possibilities to be discussed to best serve the needs of the student.

Unfortunately, both bills were approved by the committee on party-line votes and sent to the full Senate for consideration. At this time, we do not know when they will be brought up for a vote but will share our concerns with all Senators and urge you to do the same.

Substitute Teacher Law Changes Pass House

The House passed House Bill 4294 this week, which would allow districts to use a current employee as a substitute teacher, even if they do not have a teaching certificate. The person would need to have a high school diploma or equivalent and be employed by or work for the district. It specifies that the employee would be paid the higher of either their normal salary or the substitute pay rate. MASB supports the concept but not the length of time these relaxed requirements would be in place. We reached out to the bill sponsor with a request that the sunset be shortened from June 2026 to 2022.

During debate on the House Floor, Rep. Brad Paquette (R-Niles) amended his bill to reflect our request. The provisions now sunset June 30, 2022. We appreciate his willingness to work with us and now support the bill as it moves to the Senate.

School Bus Safety Legislation Receives Senate Hearing

On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee began taking testimony on a package of bills aimed at improving safety for students riding on school buses. House Bills 4201-4204 would allow stop-arm cameras to be installed on school buses, and the video or a photograph to be used as evidence of vehicles passing a stopped school bus, as well as create penalties for boarding a bus without permission of the driver.

The committee heard testimony from school transportation officials on the alarming rate of drivers failing to stop for school buses. There was also testimony on how disruptive it can be when unauthorized persons attempt to board a bus. MASB supports this package because it will increase safety for students as they travel back and forth to school. It is expected that the committee will continue discussions on the legislation next week.

Senate Education Begins Testimony on Transgendered Students Playing Sports

On Tuesday, the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee held a hearing to discuss Senate Bill 218, which would require students playing on gender-specific athletic teams to play on the team that aligns with their biological sex.

Proponents of the bill believe action is needed to protect biologically born girls from having to compete with transgender girls in athletics. They stated biologically born males would have a natural advantage over females and could take away opportunities for those athletes.

Opponents brought up that only a small number of transgender students play sports in Michigan and problems have not stemmed from their participation. Additionally, this policy is discriminatory against transgender students and could negatively impact their mental health.

MASB opposes the bill because it discriminates against an already-vulnerable student population and harms our female athletes who currently play on traditionally male teams such as football. Additionally, it appears to be a solution in search of a problem as the Michigan High School Athletic Association already has a working policy regarding transgender athletes. Both MHSAA and the National Collegiate Athletic Association oppose efforts such as those outlined in this bill. Unfortunately, the bill is part of a broader national campaign targeting transgender athletes and further hearings are expected.

False Active Shooter Bill Moves to the Senate

The House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 4698 this week. This bill creates a criminal penalty for any individual who falsely pulls an active shooter alarm. Many of these active shooter alarms are in public places, such as schools, colleges and concert arenas. The alarm systems are intended to alert the public of an active shooter. This bill would put the penalties for a false shooter alarm in line with those for falsely pulling a fire alarm.

MASB supports this legislation as it would deter individuals from falsely activating an active shooter alarm.

Asbestos Construction Package Moves to the House Floor

On Thursday, the House Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Committee approved a series of bills dealing with asbestos construction, HBs 4766-4771. Specifically, HB 4769 and HB 4770 would create new requirements for asbestos removal contracts for public entities. HB 4769 would prohibit a public entity, such as schools, from entering into an asbestos abatement project with a contractor until the contractor filed an affidavit stating whether or not they have been convicted of or received notice of violating any environmental law or regulation.

HB 4770 would require public entities to perform background checks on potential contractors before entering into a contract. These bills are intended to protect schools and other public entities from contractors who have violated health and safety regulations in the past.

These bills are now before the full House for consideration.

Advocacy Institute Coming Soon!

The National School Boards Association's 2021 Advocacy Institute is coming up quick! It will be held virtually, June 8 – 10, 2021. NSBA is excited to provide this online experience for its members. Speakers include Congressional members of the related education committees, the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Acting Chair of the Federal Communications Commission Jessica Rosenworcel.

Register today and join school board members from across the country in raising your voice on important issues such as broadband access and full funding of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. MASB is still working on coordinating a virtual event with Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters to replace our customary breakfast and will send the information to attendees as soon as it is finalized.