On July 28, State Superintendent Michael Rice told a senate committee that students and parents should just grin and bear whatever their local schools have to offer this upcoming school year. “For a single year, we ought to freeze enrollment so that we mitigate the movement of children across districts, which I think is going to be greater than ideal anyway, given the pandemic,” he said.
Rice is worried that too many students will vote with their feet if their resident district does not provide their preferred learning option for next year — either remote learning or in-person, for example.
The divide is real. Teachers unions appear far less interested than parents in returning children and teachers to regular classrooms. The Ann Arbor Education Association has issued substantial demands of state lawmakers, including issues outside the realm of education, before they returning to in-person instruction.
The state superintendent was testifying against a legislative plan that would increase flexibility for schools to provide instruction, count attendance and shift to virtual classroom instruction as needed. Instead, he wants all students to stay put and risk a year of their education to preserve the “stability” of the system.
In a letter sent earlier this month to ranking Republican legislators, Rice and leaders from an alphabet soup of education organizations called for a reprieve from taking daily student attendance. They also want to fund districts according to the fall 2019 pupil count, regardless of how many students remain enrolled.
This would undercut any incentive to ensure students advance in their learning. It would also discourage online schools or other districts from taking in new students because they would bring no new funding with them.
The divide between the goals of educating students and preserving the education system has never been so stark. These priorities are sometimes in harmony, but not always, and especially not now. The Legislature should ensure dollars continue to follow students.
Attempts to restrict flexibility for parents during the pandemic will not help students learn, and they won’t deter some families from finding ways to provide school at home. These efforts will only heighten the frustration of parents and erode their trust in a system that seems more inclined to break than to bend.
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