School Budget Legislation Signed into Law

On September 30, 2020, Governor Whitmer signed into law Public Act 165, amending the State School Aid Act (SSAA). Our Sep­tember 30, 2020 E-Blast explained certain urgent aspects of this leg­islation. This article discusses other important provisions of PA 165, including additional funding for increased enrollment, local produce purchasing, student meal debt, teacher retention, and funding to create a “Michigan Learning Channel.”

Increased Enrollment

New SSAA Section 29a allocates $66 million for schools with increased enrollment. A school is eligible for this payment if the sum of 90% of the full-time equated students “engaged in pandemic learning for fall 2020” plus 10% of the school’s spring 2019 student membership count exceeds the sum of 75% of the school’s student membership count for the 2019-20 school year, plus 25% of the school’s student membership count for the 2020-21 school year.

Payments generally will equal the difference between the first component and the second, multiplied by the school’s foundation al­lowance. The State may, however, prorate the payments if the $66 million allocation for increased enrollment is insufficient.

Determining whether a student is “engaged in pandemic learning for fall 2020” involves numerous factors as discussed in our August 19, 2020 E-Blast on House Bills 5911-5913 (now Public Acts 147-149 of 2020).

Local Produce

SSAA Section 31j allocates $2 million for competitive grants through MDE to encourage schools to purchase local produce.

Grant funds reimburse schools for purchasing whole or minimally processed local fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Schools must have purchased these foods for the 2020-21 fiscal year, and the food must be grown (and, if applicable, processed) in Michigan and used for U.S. Department of Agriculture child nutrition program meals. The grants will reimburse schools up to 10 cents per meal.

The legislation imposes various reporting requirements on each school receiving grant funds, including that the school provide, or direct its vendors to provide, MDE with copies of monthly receipts that show purchased produce quantities, costs, and growing locations.

Student Meal Debt

A school that forgave all outstanding student school meal debt is eligible to be reimbursed for the cost of that debt under SSAA Sec­tion 31k, which allocates $1 million for that purpose. The statute is silent as to whether there is a deadline for this debt forgiveness. A school must apply to MDE for this funding by December 1, 2020, and MDE must distribute reimbursements by January 30, 2021. Reim­bursements may be pro-rated if the $1 million allocated to off-set student meal debt is insufficient.

If the entire $1 million allocation is not expended during the first application cycle, MDE may distribute the remainder through a second application cycle, with schools applying for reimbursement by May 1, 2021 and MDE issuing reimbursements by June 2021. A school that receives a reimbursement through the first application cycle is ineligible for additional reimburse­ments.

A school that receives reimbursements under SSAA Section 31k must adopt a policy to prevent stigmatizing students who cannot afford school meals. The policy must prohibit school staff from:

  • Requiring a student who cannot afford a school meal or who owes a school meal debt to wear a wristband or handstamp, work to pay for a school meal, or discard a school meal after it has been served;
  • Communicating with a student about the student’s school meal debt, unless the school has been unsuccessful in communicating with the student’s parent or guardian about the debt; and
  • Discussing the student’s school meal debt in the presence of other students.

Teacher Retention

SSAA Section 99z allocates $5 million to schools for stipends for certain first-year, full-time teachers. A sti­pend is available for a teacher who:

  • Is given a teacher assignment code in the CEPI educational personnel registry for the first time in the 2020-21 school year;
  • Is assigned to a school in that registry for the 2020-21 school year;
  • Completes a full school year with that assigned school or, through a cooperative agreement, with multiple schools;
  • Is employed by that assigned school or those multiple schools by November 1, 2020;
  • Holds a valid Michigan teaching certificate or full-year permit; and
  • Has no recorded discipline during the 2020-21 school year.

MDE will generate a preliminary list of eligible teachers using the CEPI registry of educational person­nel. Through its application, a school will confirm ap­proval of the list. To receive the stipend, a school must agree to pay each eligible teacher $500 in addition to the stipend.

A school must pay the MDE stipend and the additional $500 to each eligible teacher within 45 days of receiving the funds from MDE. The stipend will be $1,000 for each eligible teacher if at least 70% of the school’s student membership last fiscal year was eco­nomically disadvantaged. Otherwise, the stipend will be $500 for each eligible teacher.

If the entire $5 million allocation is not used during the 2020-21 fiscal year, the remainder will be carried forward to the 2021-22 fiscal year for distribution to schools with eligible teachers. Schools must remember that wages paid to bargaining unit employees are a mandatory subject of bargaining.

Michigan Learning Channel

PA 165 of 2020 allocates funds to Northern Michigan University to create a Michigan Learning Channel (MLC), which is intended to bridge gaps in K-12 distance learning associated with inadequate inter­net access or devices.

The MLC will live-broadcast instructional content aligned with Michigan K-12 educational standards 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The broadcasts will be ar­chived for on-demand viewing on a companion website, along with additional learning materials.

Detroit Public Television (DPT) will manage and operate the MLC. At least five other Michigan public tel­evision stations, including WKAR, WGVU, WDCQ, WCMU, and WNMU, will partner with DPT to deliver MLC broadcasts.

The school budget legislation is lengthy, and this article is not exhaustive. We recommend that school of­ficials review the legislation in its entirety for addi­tional appropriations that may be relevant to their schools.