The Michigan Senate has passed a package of three bills that will largely define a new set of pupil accounting rules and other requirements that districts will have to live under during the 2020-21 school year. HB 5911-13 moved through the Senate on a 23-15 vote and will be taken up by the House this coming Monday, August 17. However, since the bills are the product of a deal cut between Governor Whitmer and Republican and Democratic leadership in both legislative chambers, the voting is likely more of a formality than an actual legislative process.

Here's a breakdown of the bills by topic.

Pupil Count

Pupil count for the 2020-21 school year would be based 75% on a district's pupil count from the 2019-20 school year and 25% on the district's pupil count from the upcoming school year. Remember that your pupil count for any year is a 90/10 blend of your fall count from that year and the spring count from the previous year, so the final pupil blend will the sum of four different counts weighted as follows:

  • February 2019 count - 7.5%
  • October 2019 count - 67.5%
  • February 2020 count - 2.5%
  • October 2020 count - 22.5%

The method for counting pupils for the upcoming school year would be very similar to (though somewhat more flexible than) the one used currently by cyber charter schools or other fully virtual programs and outlined in the pupil accounting manual. Districts will have several choices for counting students including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Count day attendance: This is the way it's always been done. If you are lucky enough to have school in session on count day or to be doing purely synchronous distance learning (e.g. live lesson via Zoom), you can just take attendance.
  • Count day participation: For "pupils engaged in pandemic learning" who are engage in asynchronous learning on count day (using a blended, virtual, paper packet or other method of learning), if you can demonstrate that a student engaged in a lesson or interacted with their teacher IN EVERY CLASS they are enrolled in ON COUNT DAY, then you can count the student in membership for the year. There are a lot of ways to demonstrate that engagement or interaction, but it has to be for every class.
  • Two-way interaction log: For students who aren't in school or who don't meet the requirements of the count day participation methodology, districts can choose to log at least one two-way interaction per student per week for each of the four weeks following count day. This is a lower bar than count day participation since it only needs to be one interaction, but you have to track it every week for four weeks.

Districts have other options and will want to review those options with their local and ISD pupil accounting gurus, but these are likely to be the most popular.

Days, Hours, Attendance

The bills waive the requirement that districts provide 180 days and 1,098 hours of pupil instruction. However, the bills insert a new requirement that districts "provide pupil instruction … that results in an amount of hours and days necessary to deliver the educational or course content that would have been delivered in 180 days and 1,098 hours in a school year in which pandemic learning was not provided and that would have led to course completion" (for our purposes here, "pandemic learning" means whatever mode of instruction districts are using next school year).

However, while the bill says that days and hours are waived (and they effectively are), districts will be required to track pupil attendance throughout the year. The method for tracking attendance is incredibly stripped down. Districts must log at least one, two-way interaction per student per month for at least 75% of students who are enrolled. If a district fails to hit the 75% threshold for a particular month, they will lose a portion of their state aid equal for that month to the amount they were below the 75% attendance threshold.

The definition of what constitutes a two-way interaction seems somewhat more lax than what is currently the practice for virtual learning, though it will likely require some interpretation from MDE to know exactly what this means.

Extended COVID-19 Learning Plans

Under the bills, all districts (even if you are planning to offer fully face-to-face instruction) will be required to develop an additional Extended COVID-19 Learning Plan for the 2020-21 school year. This is above and beyond the Preparedness Plans that districts have already developed and which need to be in place by this coming Monday, August 17. Districts have until October 1 to complete these new plans, post them on their websites, and submit them to their ISDs for approval. The elements of the new plan include elements such as the following (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • The educational goals expected to be achieved for the 2020-2021 school year. While the plan itself is not required to be completed until October 1, these goals have to be completed and submitted by September 15. The goals must include at least increased achievement or growth for all pupils, have to be measurable using the benchmark assessments districts will be required to administer (see below), and must be able to be disaggregated by subgroup. Districts must then report on progress toward these goals by February 1, 2021 and post that report on their website.
  • A description of "how instruction will be delivered during the 2020-2021 school year" (i.e. in person, distance learning, virtual learning, blended learning, etc.). The description in the plan must match how instruction is actually being delivered. Local school boards would be required to vote monthly to reaffirm this element of their district's learning plans. Public comment must be solicited from the parents or legal guardians of the pupils enrolled in the district during the board meeting where the vote is taken.
  • A description of how instruction for core academic areas will cover the academic standards that apply for each pupil's grade level or courses in the same scope and sequence as the district had planned for in-person instruction.
  • A description of how pupil progress toward mastery will be graded or otherwise reported to the pupil and the pupil's parent or legal guardian.
  • If the district is delivering pupil instruction virtually, an assurance and description of how pupils will be provided with equitable access to technology and the internet access necessary to participate in instruction.
  • A description of how the district will ensure that students with disabilities will be provided with equitable access to instruction.
  • An assurance that the local district will coordinate with their local health department on identifying and making decisions about in-person instruction based on specific public health metrics. This provision simply creates a mechanism for local health departments to make recommendations. The decision about whether or not to offer in-person instruction is not subject to local health department approval.
  • A provision that, if the district determines that it is safe to provide in-person pupil instruction to pupils, the district shall prioritize providing in-person pupil instruction to pupils in grades K to 5 who are enrolled in the district.

Possibly the most onerous requirement in the whole bill is that, in addition to the elements list above, districts must ensure "that 2 2-way interactions occur between a pupil enrolled in the district and the pupil's teacher or at least 1 of the pupil's teachers during each week of the school year for at least 75% of pupils enrolled in the district." There is no specific accountability tied to this requirement, so districts who aren't making their 75% threshold don't face any penalties, but the bills requires that a district "publicly announce its weekly interaction rates under this subdivision at each [monthly board meeting] and make those rates accessible through the transparency reporting link located on the district's website each month."

Benchmark Assessments

Districts will be required to administer reading and mathematics assessments to students in grades K-8 at least two times in the upcoming year, one of which must be administered within the first nine weeks of the school year (the timeline on the second administration is not defined). Districts would be required to choose from a list of benchmark assessments developed by MDE. The list is not yet developed, but will include at least 4 and no more than 5 assessments that meet a number of criteria outlined in the bill. The list would have to include at least one no-cost option. A district may choose to use another assessment of their choice not on the list provided they submit justification of that choice to CEPI.

Districts must report the results of these assessments through the statewide data hubs. The data hubs would then be required to submit aggregate data at the district level to CEPI and CEPI and MDE are required to compile and report to the Governor and the Senate and House Education Committees responsible for education legislation identifying the number and percentage of pupils in this state who are significantly behind grade level (as determined by MDE) based on those assessments results. The report shall also identify the specific pupil groups whose expected trajectory toward grade-level proficiency were most impacted by school closures that occurred pursuant to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results collected by the state could not be used for accountability or any similar purposes.

Next Steps

The bills have passed the Senate and now head to the House for concurrence before moving on the Governor's desk, but at this point, that process seems likely to be a formality. The Governor and legislative leadership from both parties and in both chambers has agreed to the legislation. Districts are well advised to treat this legislation as though it is law and start planning to implement it's requirements. Though it seems likely that some additional guidance from MDE will need to be forthcoming, so districts should also watch for that in the coming weeks.

On the bright side, this gives districts some much needed clarity and stability going into next school year. It also allows schools to start planning for how they will manage the new pupil accounting regulations. On the other hand, the additional reporting and assessment requirements are going to be burdensome and the new pupil accounting rules are far from a panacea.

It is possible that some of the more onerous requirements or unintended consequences of these bills could be cleaned up when the legislature eventually passes a budget for the 2020-21 school year...which has to be done before the end of September in order to avoid a government shutdown. Stay tuned.