The GOP-led Senate approved the bill unanimously after making changes to the House-passed version. It would exclude the period from Jan. 29 through Feb. 1, when an artic deep freeze led Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to declare a statewide emergency, from counting toward the state limit on school cancellations.
Unlike the Republican-controlled House, however, the Senate did not agree to apply the exception to future state-declared emergencies. It also stripped language that would require districts wanting the snow-day forgiveness to pay hourly workers — typically paraprofessionals, bus drivers, lunchroom workers and others — for those days in certain situations where collective bargaining or employment agreements do not explicitly address if they will be compensated.
By not helping provide the required two-thirds vote to give the measure immediate effect, Democrats held it up for potential further talks.
"Evidently my partners on the other side of the aisle decided that unions were more important than kids," said Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarklake. "We were doing our best to give schools as much advance notice as possible so they could plan, and they chose to leave immediate effect off. So that leaves the schools uncertain."
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint Democrat, characterized the worker pay dispute as a "little disagreement" that "will not turn into a big thing," but he said Democrats wanted to ensure there are additional negotiations.
"We'd like to at least give them an option to get paid," he said of janitors, cooks and others. "In many districts, they are. It's under the contract. We wanted to put some clarity in place."
Shirkey spokeswoman Amber McCann countered that lawmakers should not interfere with districts' labor contracts and should instead "stick to solving the problem, which is to resolve these emergency days so that schools can plan their calendars and adjust accordingly."
State law forgives districts from making up six days that have been canceled for emergencies, and schools can get a waiver from the state superintendent for three additional days. Many districts have already reached or exceeded nine snow days. Some are in the double digits, meaning their students could have up to an extra week of school in June without the legislation.
The House version of the bill would also apply to other states of emergency, such as one Whitmer declared for Ionia County in February. The Senate version would forgive only the Jan. 29-Feb. 1 period of time.
Senators rejected an amendment from Republican Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan, who proposed mandating a June 14 end to the academic year regardless of whether schools make up snow days. He said even if the four days of forgiveness is enacted into law, more than 50 schools will still have to extend classes beyond that date.
"We should consider how this impacts jobs that students are looking to have and the job providers that are anxious to have them," McBroom said. "We should look at the adverse impact on families — the trips and the plans that families have made together. ... The extension of the school year is a waste of everyone's time and energy because good teachers have already figured out ways of cutting out others things they were doing so they could get the important education work done already."
House Bill 4206: http://bit.ly/2VA4Ysg
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