Only school districts with in-person learning get COVID relief cash under House GOP plan

Childcare centers won’t get funding until mask order lifted

By: - April 28, 2021 1:57 pm

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The state House Appropriations Committee approved the first pieces of the GOP’s $13 billion COVID-19 relief funding plan Wednesday, but limited school funds to only districts that provide in-person learning.  

Under the Fiscal Year 2021 supplemental bill, which includes $4.8 billion for schools, school districts would be required to offer at least 20 hours per week of in-person learning as of May 10.

“It’s appalling that, just as cases start to subside from another COVID-19 wave that sent infection rates skyrocketing among young people, the House GOP plan for spending federal pandemic relief funding for schools is tied to yet another political demand,” Michigan Education Association (MEA) President Paula Herbart said. 

She noted that the Legislature last summer “passed a law making it a local decision about how to safely educate Michigan students.”

Most of the relief money is coming from the federal government, including $3.2 billion from relief funds signed by former President Donald Trump in December and $8.6 billion from a March bill approved by President Joe Biden. There’s also $1.3 billion in state General Fund money.

As of Tuesday, the state has reported 829,520 total COVID-19 cases and 17,429 deaths. 

In recent months, there has been an increase of outbreaks in K-12 schools and increased case rates among young people. According to the state’s COVID-19 data update Tuesday, the state reported 224 ongoing outbreaks and 43 new outbreaks in K-12 schools. Michiganders ages 10 to 19 also have the highest case rates in the state, and only those 16 years and older are currently eligible to get the vaccine.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have tie-barred essential funding to bills that likely won’t get the approval of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In March, Whitmer vetoed $840 million in K-12 funding that was tie-barred to legislation that would have yanked power from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

“After pulling a similar stunt in March, Republican lawmakers are holding game-changing federal funding hostage because they don’t like the local choices that have been made – and giving districts 12 days to change course with the school year winding down,” Herbart said. “They’re adding requirements to desperately needed taxpayer money that was approved by both President Trump and President Biden without these conditions.”

MEA launched a tool Wednesday that shows how much federal aid for each school district in the state is being held up in the Legislature.

Michigan’s largest school district, Detroit Public School Community District, has over $1 billion in unspent federal relief money. 

The House plan also includes more than $1.4 billion to support childcare in Michigan, but the Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday to authorize that funding only when Michigan ends its order calling for child care facilities and camps to ensure kids 2 to 4 years old wear masks to stop the spread of COVID.

“This is not about political posturing – this is about doing what’s right for our kids. I have serious concerns about the consequences of this impractical, ineffective order,” Committee Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said. “Michigan isn’t solving any problems with this particular mask order – it’s actually creating problems for young kids and their families.”

The Appropriations Committee approved House Bills 4419 and 4421 Wednesday. House Bill 4420 and House Bill 4082 are expected to have committee votes Thursday.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.