News From the Capitol, June 11, 2021

2021-06-11 | Michigan Association of School Boards

  • Senate Introduces Bill to Extend Budget Deadline
  • Governor Proposes Expanding Great Start Readiness Program
  • House Passes Changes to Strict Discipline Academy Authorizers
  • Senate Panel Begins Testimony on Special Education Legislation
  • NSBA’s Advocacy Institute Puts Focus on IDEA and Homework Gap
  • A Chance to Serve—Apply for a MASB Committee

Senate Introduces Bill to Extend Budget Deadline

On Thursday, Senate Bill 537 was introduced, which would remove the July 1 deadline for the Legislature to present the budget to the Governor. After months of conversations about finishing the budget by mid- to late June, acknowledgement that schools need to be able to set their budgets and the positive numbers in the state’s General Fund and School Aid Fund, it is very disappointing to see this legislation introduced. We will continue to urge the Legislature to get the budget done now and give schools something on which to base their own budgets.

The delay in action is compounded by the federal COVID relief funds that have not been appropriated to our schools since December. While our districts continue to respond to both requirements put on them by the Legislature and the desires and needs of parents and students, all while addressing the increased issues raised by the pandemic, this lack of legislative responsibility is offensive and unacceptable. Call your legislator and tell them to get the budget done before the end of your fiscal year.

Governor Proposes Expanding Great Start Readiness Program

On Tuesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a proposal to increase funding and opportunities for the Great Start Readiness Program to serve all income-eligible 4-year-olds, expanding the program to approximately 22,000 more children. This state-funded preschool program has been growing over recent years but has not kept pace with the demand for high-quality pre-K education opportunities. Her budget proposal called for raising the amount per slot to be the same as the minimum per-pupil amount for K-12 students and that amount is reflected in this plan.

GSRP currently provides preschool to children from families at or below 250% of the poverty line, which is $66,250 for a family of four. In tandem with the Head Start program, GSRP provides preschool to 43,100 kids across Michigan. The Governor’s plan proposes an additional $255 million in federal dollars and $150 million in state dollars, for a total of $405 million, for GSRP over the next three years.

The plan also calls for an additional $50 million in federal funds to support direct grants to providers, expand access to transportation and provide scholarships for teaching staff to receive new training.

MASB has long supported universal access to preschool education. Studies have shown that investment in early education improves long-term student success. We will be watching this proposal and urging its inclusion in the budget as we go forward.

House Passes Changes to Strict Discipline Academy Authorizers

The House acted quickly this week on House Bill 4945, which would strike the requirement that a school district that wants to authorize a strict discipline academy must be a K-12 district. This would allow any district to authorize an SDA. It was stated this change was an oversight from when other sections of charter school law were updated to remove that reference during debate over creating the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

However, the quick action was a result of testimony from ACE Academy in the Highland Park School District. ACE Academy’s charter with Central Michigan University expires on June 30 and it would like the charter to be picked up by Highland Park, which is a K-8 district. There were concerns and frustration raised by the committee on the speed at which this is being moved and what this change in law could mean for Highland Park and other districts.

The bill was approved on Tuesday on a party-line vote and was passed by the full House on a 57-52 vote the next day. It is now before the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee.

Senate Panel Begins Testimony on Special Education Legislation

Earlier this week, the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee began deliberating on legislation that would make it easier for special education students to change school districts. Under current law, if a student with special needs wants to enroll in a neighboring district, the two districts must reach an agreement to ensure the student will receiving the proper services and how to pay for those services. Senate Bills 410 and 411 eliminate the requirement for sign-off by the residential district. The bills also would take any special education millage funding and have that money follow the student their new district.

The committee has heard testimony from parents who had concerns over the lack of in-person services offered by their current districts and these bills were introduced to provide more options for students with special needs. Unfortunately, the bills attempt to achieve this by taking local property tax dollars paid by residents of one district and giving it to another district. MASB opposes these bills with concerns over the effects on the ISD of residence and their budget, as well as the constitutional uses of taxpayer-approved millages.

The committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 321, which would provide access to mental health professional development training to teachers. The material will help teachers identify potential risks or warning signs for students and staff who may need mental health support. The training would not be required, but simply a new option for teachers to take in their professional development.

MASB supports the bill as it is not a mandate on our districts but makes materials available for use. Addressing the need to improve mental health services for both teachers and students is a priority for our members.

There was no vote taken on any of these bills and they are expected to receive additional hearings.

NSBA’s Advocacy Institute Puts Focus on IDEA and Homework Gap

This week, more than 45 school board members from across the state took part in NSBA’s virtual Advocacy Institute. For the first time in many years, every congressional district in Michigan was represented! And once again, we were one of, if not the, biggest delegation. Big thanks to all who joined in the conference.

The attendees heard addresses from many members of Congress, the results of a national public education opinion poll and a discussion about music education from country music artist, Trisha Yearwood.

During the conference, a lot of focus was put on fully funding the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Sen. Gary Peters has signed onto a bill in the Senate that would do just that. IDEA was designed with the goal of the federal government paying 40% of special education costs in districts. In Michigan, our current rate is 14.8%. MASB was featured in the NSBA presentation on this issue.

Another issue that was highlighted was the homework gap caused by the lack of access to quality and affordable broadband service. The acting chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, addressed the delegates about work the FCC has done to expand E-rate and other programs and issues facing districts and families surrounding broadband. Text the words “Homework Gap” to 52886 to sign NSBA’s petition to end this digital divide in education.

Finally, on Thursday, our members had meetings with their Congresspeople and Sen. Peters and Sen. Debbie Stabenow joined our delegation for a discussion. Sen. Stabenow has sponsored a bill, S.479, which would once again allow school districts to refinance bonds to save taxpayer money. This ability was removed in tax code changes that were made in 2017. She urged members to push their representatives and talk to colleagues in other states, to get this included in tax code changes this year.

Sen. Peters wrapped up his remarks with a statement that all of us should remember in our advocacy: “I can’t be the most effective advocate for you, if I don’t hear from you.” He also pointed out that he and his staff have lots of ideas, but the best ones come from constituents.

Next year the Advocacy Institute is expected to return to Washington D.C. in late January. We hope you’ll consider joining us for this opportunity to advocate at the federal level.

A Chance to Serve—Apply for a MASB Committee

Are you looking for a way to be more involved in your Association? Do you want to share your expertise and perspective statewide? Serving on MASB’s Government Relations Committee may be the right opportunity for you!

MASB committees bring together school board members from around the state to discuss vital issues and help shape your Association’s positions and actions. The Government Relations Committee monitors state and federal legislative and executive actions and school finance pertaining to public education and school districts.

To apply, contact Cheryl Huffman at chuffman@masb.org or 517.327.5915 with your interest by June 30, 2021. More information on this and the two other open committees—Resolutions and Bylaws and Legal Trust Fund—is available on the MASB website. You can apply for any of these committees by contacting Cheryl.