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New law: School funding tied to in-person instruction

chalk and chalkboard in an education classroom
Public domain image via Wikimedia

Starting Monday, hundreds of Michigan school districts had to offer at least 20 hours a week of in-person instruction to receive all of a minimum $450-per-student increase in emergency pandemic funding.

The provision affects 206, or 38%, of the state’s 537 traditional K-12 districts — those with higher numbers or percentages of children from middle-class and wealthy families.

Under federal law, the districts are due to receive a smaller share of nearly $1.5 billion in COVID-19 aid than are districts and charter schools with higher numbers or portions of poor students. The Republican-led Legislature allocated $136 million in state money to ensure hundreds of districts still get at least $450 more per pupil, but it added a string.

Those with five-day schedules must provide at least 20 hours of weekly face-to-face instruction to qualify for the supplemental dollars.

“It’s important for kids to be in school academically, socially and emotionally,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Thomas Albert, a Lowell Republican. “Some Michigan schools have offered some form of in-person instruction for the entire academic year when they were allowed to do so. There’s no reason that can’t be the case everywhere in the state.”

Districts that were not already providing 20 hours had less than two weeks to alter their schedules after the law was signed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 9, frustrating school officials who had unsuccessfully asked GOP lawmakers for more time.

“Some districts in some cases had to scramble to try and get this done in order to receive full funding,” said Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director for external relations at the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators.

He said most districts had a plan to satisfy the governor’s goal of offering face-to-face instruction by March 1, but the recent specificity of 20 hours was a barrier. A district whose teachers taught half the day in person and the other half virtually, he said, might be at 15 hours. That meant they had to switch to doing both for some hours, which may not be as effective, or there were problems keeping kids in cohorts or adhering to physical distancing.

“It wasn’t a well-thought-out provision that recognized the reality of what’s going on in Michigan classrooms across the state,” Spadafore said.

Albert contended that schools had “plenty of time” to prepare and it is “wholly unacceptable” if they had not figured out how to safely return by Monday.

Ann Arbor Public Schools, the state’s fourth-largest district and one of the last to reopen for in-person classes, passed on nearly $1.7 million in state funding rather than guarantee the 20-hour option for all students. Some students will return later this week, with more following after spring break.

Okemos, near Lansing, began providing 20 hours on Monday, two weeks after it had started providing face-to-face instruction — 10 hours a week — for the first time in nearly a year. The district secured nearly $1.7 million in additional funding as a result.

Because some districts will get less than $50 per student in federal aid, they faced bigger funding implications than districts district due to receive nearly $450 in per-pupil federal dollars. Some districts, like Detroit, will get about $2,000 per student.

About half of Michigan’s K-12 federal aid, however, remains in limbo because GOP lawmakers tied it to a bill that would have ceded the state’s epidemic powers to close schools and prohibit sports solely to local health departments. The governor vetoed the legislation.