Jacques: A dumb fight to give kids time off school

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News
Children fly down the sledding hill at Heritage Park in Farmington Hills on Monday after school was called off.

If you aren’t sure why Michigan’s schools continue to lag the country, the recent “fight” over snow days in the Legislature is Exhibit A.

Lawmakers managed to waste a heck of a lot of time debating whether to grant public schools a free pass for additional days off due to bad weather this winter.

That’s right — they spent months bickering over the fine points of allowing kids to skip more school.

More:Snow days forgiveness feud thaws for summer break

More:Editorial: Too many snow days? Give schools flexibility

And lawmakers are slapping themselves on the back, claiming they did this to benefit kids.

Don’t let them fool you. There’s nothing in the snow day debate that’s beneficial to children. This is all about adults — schools wanting their full checks from the state, and unions making sure employees get paychecks, even for time not clocked in the classroom.

This winter most schools exhausted their allotted six days of cancellation, and blew through the other thr school districts obtained through a waiver. Neither teachers nor student want the school year to stretch into the summer, but each day of classroom time is valuable.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, back in February when all this began, correctly noted the problem: “I feel sorry for what we’re enduring from a weather standpoint this year. But I’m not really interested in taking more school days away from our kids. We’re already in certain areas underperforming. They need all the school days we can get.”

Yet he seemed to change course in the ensuing months, moving to the side of granting the additional days off.

If the Legislature was determined to put so much energy into snow days, it should have tied the discussion to something more relevant — such as allowing schools to start before Labor Day so they have more time to make up for Michigan’s inevitable cold snaps.

Lawmakers also misguidedly balked last year at other reforms that that would have given schools additional flexibility in how they teach students — focusing on what students learn instead of time in the seats.

Simply giving students an extra week off school isn’t the answer.  

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, who introduced snow day forgiveness legislation in February, said this following the bill’s passage last week: “I think we wanted to show that we’re going to work together to get things out of here, or it’s going to be a long four years.”

If the ridiculous fight over snow days is an example of how Republicans and Democrats are going to “work together” in coming months, then that doesn’t bode well for the most pressing matters lawmakers have on their docket — including auto insurance relief and fixing Michigan’s “damn roads.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer now has the snow days bill on her desk. She's likely to sign it, but she should at least chide lawmakers for not including measures that would improve student learning.

Editorial fellow Mark Naida contributed.