Southfield (CW50) – Advocating for the needs of education in a state is the primary job of a state’s superintendent. During the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, where there is concern over how schools will open, the assurance of safety in schools and the need for more funding are at the forefront of that advocacy.

The Michigan Department of Education has been finding ways to support schools through the pandemic by securing funding for technology programs and loosening requirements on food distribution to ensure social-distancing in schools.

Some of the department’s support comes from the Education Equity Fund, to help districts address technology gaps and mental health needs. The department also requested federal waivers on child nutrition programs to help minimize the potential exposure to the virus, by providing food sponsors the flexibility to continue serving meals outside of regular cafeteria settings.

Dr. Michael F. Rice, Michigan Department of Education, State Superintendent (Photo provided by MDE)

Michigan’s State Superintendent, Dr. Michael F. Rice, has also shown support for and contributed to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “MI Safe Schools: Michigan’s 2020- 21 Return to School Roadmap,” which provides required and strongly recommended safety protocols to keep school communities safe based on the status of the coronavirus.

In recent weeks, Dr. Michael F. Rice, has urged Michigan’s lawmakers to define and outline what the school year’s requirements will look like in terms of attendance, hours, days, and funding.

“It’s important to establish these parameters to remove the elements of uncertainty that we’re able to remove in the midst of the pandemic,” said Dr. Rice.

On August 15th, Michigan’s State Senate helped define some of those requirements through three bills, part of the ‘Return to Learn’ school legislation package.

Key features of the legislation:

  • No mandates for in-person classes. (This is in contrast to the House’s requirement of K-5 having to have an option for in-person classes). 
  • The legislation defines attendance so that students who are physically in class and those who  participate virtually are both counted. The plan also would waive the requirement to have 180 days or 1,098 hours of school this year.  
  • Teachers would be required to regularly “interface” with students. (Must have two-way interaction at least two times a week. Funding may be withheld if not done so). 
  • A student assessment would be required  within nine weeks of the start of school, with a second delivered by the end of the year, in order for districts to receive funding. 
  • About 75% of funding would be based on a district’s student count for last school year, with the remaining  25% based on the count this year.  
  • School boards would have to publicly reevaluate their plans every month. 
  • Districts would need to establish “education goals” for students by Sept. 15, and publish “extended COVID-19 learning plans” by Oct. 1st.  
  • An additional $583 million would be allocated to help schools and educators during the year. 

The three bills will now go to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk, where she is expected to sign them.

Community Connect Host Lisa Germani, with Dr. Michael F. Rice, Michigan Department of Education, State Superintendent

Dr. Rice joins Lisa Germani on Community Connect to share his thoughts on Michigan’s latest ‘Return to Learn’ legislation, and what the Michigan Dept. of Education is advocating for, leading up to and throughout the school year.

Watch COMMUNITY CONNECT, Saturday at 8:30am on CW50