LANSING (Great Lakes News) – Michigan K-12 students are back in the classroom, and the discussion surrounding school funding, scheduling, and student retention resumes.
The Waiting Game
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On Friday, Republican leaders in Lansing agreed to a budget framework, but stalled over how to fund Michigan’s crumbling roads. The state budget must be finalized by October 1st. Up until Friday, rumors could be heard about a potential statewide government shutdown if a solution could not be reached.
In a press conference last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said “I’m working day and night to get a deal that will make bold, meaningful investments in our schools and infrastructure. The problems we’re facing are decades in the making, and they’re a result of leaders in Lansing kicking the can down the road and using School Aid Fund dollars to fill gaps in the budget. That changes this year. I’m not going to sign a budget that doesn’t include a real fix.”
Meanwhile, school districts statewide are forced to make do with an unknown per pupil funding amount as the school year gets underway. John Fattal, Superintendent for Corunna Public Schools, said it’s forced his district to hold off on several purchases for special programs.
“Hands-on classes like our Algebra I in Manufacturing Processes, Entrepreneurship & Design and Geometry in Construction are great, hands-on applied math classes,” Fattal said. “Those cost more to offer our students than ‘regular” math classes.”
Meanwhile, districts must stay in a holding pattern until lawmakers and the governor solidify a budget.
Class, Take Your Seats
In 2006, Michigan lawmakers decided against requiring schools to adopt a post-Labor Day start date. Districts now have the freedom to apply for waivers that grant permission to start school before Labor Day. The Michigan Department of Education told Great Lakes News the state has approved 174 requests from local districts or intermediate school districts to start before Labor Day.
Currently, Michigan law requires students to receive 1,098 hours of instruction within 180 days. School districts must meet this requirement or run the risk of losing funding.
Some administrators and teachers have stressed that starting after Labor Day pushes the district calendar further into the summer. And unlike decades ago, many school districts also offer dual enrollment for students.
“(The early start) allows our students who are taking Early College or other Dual-Enrollment classes at community colleges to start at the same time their colleges do,” Fattal said.
An earlier start also gives fall sports momentum. If schools start after Labor Day, varsity sports like football, cross country, soccer, golf, and volleyball have often been in season nearly a month by the time the bell rings.
To Travel or Not to Travel, that is the Question
One of Michigan’s primary industries is tourism, with much of the summer’s success hinging on families traveling “up north.” If parents are in back-to-school mode several weeks before Labor Day, the industry feels it.
Kent Wood with the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce told The Detroit News that even though waivers are permitted, any move to change a mandatory post-Labor Day start would dramatically influence the Pure Michigan way of life.
“This does have an impact on industries that rely on six to eight weeks of the year to make their year,” Wood said. “One to two weekends (may seem trivial), but’s it’s 25% of their money-making days.”
However, the school calendar is often a moot point when it comes to travel. It’s not unheard of for parents to pull their kids out of school after the official start and take them on a family vacation.
Balancing the Calendar
While many schools in Michigan still follow a traditional schedule, several are moving to a “balanced calendar.” The Michigan Department of Education explains that district adhering to this calendar get a shorter summer break, but more breaks during the year.
While some argue the three-month summer break is a thing of the past, others say the move to a balanced calendar isn’t a simple switch.
The reason? Infrastructure. Many Michigan schools do not have air conditioning and without it, summertime learning can be unbearable. That means school districts would have to come up with AC funds on their own or look to the state for more funding.
It’s a problem The Flint School District knows firsthand. Teachers and students found themselves in a sticky situation at the beginning of August when the balanced calendar resumed and classroom temps swelled to the high 90s. Donations of air conditioning units helped provide relief but Superintendent Dr. Derrick Lopez told ABC 12 it’s not a permanent solution.
“The infrastructure in this district is very old, and so it’s going to take time to right that infrastructure,” Lopez said. “We had a short summer. We were able to get some of the things done. And so, we’re just thankful we’re able to have this stop gap for this school year so that we can get the remaining things done for next year.”
In the meantime, follow Great Lakes News online or on air for more details on how the state budget will unfold.