Sen. Theis, Rep. Hornberger spearhead Return to Learn plan to prioritize student safety, distance learning

$1.3 billion plan implements federal Coronavirus Relief Funds

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Lana Theis and state Rep. Pamela Hornberger, the chairs of the Senate and House education committees, helped unveil a “Return to Learn” plan on Tuesday to ensure the safety of Michigan students as learning resumes in the fall.

The House-Senate plan requires local school districts and health departments to work together to develop health and safety standards that are best for their unique areas.

“Lawmakers have no more important role than to ensure our students receive a great education in a safe learning environment,” said Theis, R-Brighton, chair of the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee. “Our plan helps students achieve by providing additional investments in our local school districts to support them in this new era of learning, and by empowering them to make health and safety decisions that make the best sense for their communities.”

The legislators believe schools should have the flexibility to begin instruction as quickly and safely as possible. Under the plan, school districts could start whenever is best for them without obtaining a waiver to bypass Michigan’s Labor Day start requirement.

“The public health crisis affected each corner of our state differently, meaning our safety protocols shouldn’t be the same for every school,” said Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, a former Michigan public school teacher. “Safety standards will need to be different in Metro Detroit than they are in the U.P. Experts from local health departments, not politicians, are best suited to determine these standards.”

The Return to Learn plan also:

  • Provides an $800 per-pupil payment to K-12 schools to implement a robust distance learning plan and health and safety measures to return students safely to the classroom.
  • Includes a $500 per-teacher payment as hazard and overtime pay and to help cover costs incurred due to transitioning to distance learning teaching plans.
  • Delivers $80 million to intermediate school districts to assist schools in coordinating and implementing distance learning plans and safety measures.
  • Redefines the word “attendance” to mean “engaged in instruction” rather than “physically present,” allowing schools to be innovative and giving students the opportunity to learn outside the classroom.
  • Utilizes benchmark assessments to provide detailed information to parents and teachers about where a student needs additional help, ensuring kids do not fall behind in the wake of the public health crisis.
  • Requires school districts to work with local health departments to establish safety requirements for extracurricular activities and sports in addition to regular school safety measures.

“Entrusting local education leaders with the flexibility to make more and better decisions will increase opportunities for educational enrichment and help improve student achievement,” Theis said. “Our plan will help them accomplish that.”

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this crisis, it’s that health and safety decisions should be made at the local level, not with sweeping statewide mandates,” said Hornberger. “As a former teacher, I want what’s best for our kids’ education and, more importantly, their health. This plan delivers that.”

The plan is expected to be referred to the respective committees for consideration later this week.

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Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, speaks at a press conference announcing the Return to Learn plan on Tuesday, June 23.