This week the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee met remotely to discuss the Senate's version of the education coronavirus relief bill. Last week, the House moved its version. Soon after the coronavirus outbreak, the legislative leaders agreed that before any bill would go to the House or Senate floor, it must have to have bipartisan support. Both chairs of the education committees honored that commitment by producing lean bills that are light on divisiveness.
The Senate bill does not include the more controversial requirement that school districts pay their hourly employees and contract workers as the House did. Fee-based programs, particularly before and after school childcare, preschool, and food service, aren't generating the revenue that districts anticipated. It is such a difficult choice. Districts want to support their employees and communities by keeping people working. However, forcing districts to deficit spend with the dire economic outlook could further destabilize the quality of education that schools can provide to their students. Already, school districts are laying off these workers.
The other controversial provision in the House bill but missing in the Senate allows MDE to relax some instructional time and academic requirements so high school students can graduate, and students can move up a grade next fall. The transformation to distance learning has continuing challenges that impact the ability of students to learn. Lack of internet access, insufficient support while at home for struggling students, and trouble with some students and families adjusting to the new norm are all concerns. The state and schools have the difficult responsibility to get students where they need to be while not punishing them for a world pandemic that was out of their control.
The Senate included forecast adjustments, and the House did not. I'm not sure if this is controversial with the House or merely an oversight. Adjusting the revenue streams to the most recent February forecast sets a stake in the ground for the base level of funding for the 2020-21 school year. School districts are budgeting for the next school year, and this will add some clarity to the process.