House OKs snow day forgiveness bill, exempting days during record cold snap

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer holds an update meeting and then answers a few questions from the media at the State Emergency Operations Center near Dimondale on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019.

Lansing — State school districts won’t have to make up days for those canceled during a record cold snap in late January under legislation the Michigan House passed Wednesday.

The bill by Rep. Ben Frederick, R-Owosso, would loosen laws that require K-12 districts to add days to the school year if they accumulate more than six cancellations and three waiver-contingent cancellations. The legislation would create an exemption for days canceled during a state-declared emergency.

The bill also would better protect schools from funding sanctions for low student attendance on rescheduled days.

The state requires a minimum of 1,098 hours of instruction over 180 days. A school's funding is reduced if it doesn't have more than 75 percent participation on make-up days. The bill would lower the threshold to 60 percent. 

The legislation is in response to a spate of snow days and subzero weather that occurred when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency from Jan. 29-31.

Some school districts in Northern Michigan have had 20-plus cancellations this school year, pushing their end dates into late June, said Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Ostemo Township, who sponsored the substitute approved Wednesday.

“This provides significant relief for those families that they maybe had something planned, but also just to be able to have the assurance that the state’s looking at this, addressing it and taking action,” Iden said.

Democrats initially opposed the bill because it would not extend pay for those days to hourly school workers who also had those days canceled. Republicans initially defended the exception, noting some schools were paying those employees voluntarily, but amendments adopted Wednesday better addressed the concerns.

Schools without contracts that address the payment or nonpayment of hourly employees on canceled days would be required to pay those employees under the substitute bill by Iden.

“This was something that we wanted to ensure that the governor would support and by having this bipartisan support we feel much more comfortable about that,” Iden said.

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