Capital Update: 'Return to Learn' taken up by Senate, House

Meeting in a rare Saturday session, the Michigan Senate approved “return to learn” bills hailed as a bipartisan deal struck late Friday by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislative leaders. Today, Monday, August 17, the legislation is expected to be considered by the Michigan House of Representatives. Below is a statement by Amber Arellano, Executive Director, The Education Trust-Midwest.

“We applaud Governor Whitmer and Michigan’s legislative leadership for their work on a bipartisan package that includes a commitment to quality education data and transparency.

As an organization committed to ensuring all Michigan students have the opportunity to learn at high levels, we are particularly heartened to see the inclusion of benchmark assessments that are aligned with high standards for teaching and learning. These assessments will provide parents and educators with critical information on how students are progressing and how they need to be supported at this historic moment of COVID-19, regardless of whether learning takes place in person, virtually or through a hybrid model.

Measuring student learning will be particularly important to inform how to address the unfinished learning that followed the necessary but abrupt school closures in the spring, which disproportionately impacted our state’s most vulnerable students and their families.

Given the financial challenges many districts are facing, we especially applaud efforts to ensure that rigorous, standards-aligned benchmark assessments are made available at the State’s expense to every district in the state.

We hope that the same bipartisan spirit can be brought to the table in the coming weeks as difficult, but more equitable decisions about the state education budget are considered.”

For students in Michigan and across the nation, schools have evolved to be a home-base for a wide range of wraparound services related to the health and well-being of students. Caring for their social-emotional needs are even more critical as they return to school amid great uncertainty and increased fear arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ensuring continued access to socioemotional services, college- and career-counseling, and other wraparound services is especially important for students and families, no matter how instruction will be delivered this fall, be it in-person, virtual or a hybrid model.

As a part of a periodic series exploring the six recommendations in our recent 2020 State of Michigan Education Report, A Marshall Plan: Reimagining Michigan Public Education, we are further exploring our recommendation on inclusivity and socioemotional supports.

The Education Trust-Midwest has urged state education and legislative leaders to model and support students, educators and district leaders by encouraging them to set a tone of inclusivity, compassion and support for one another. We continue that call, which includes addressing head-on the accounts of growing racism and damaging xenophobic bullying that were prevalent last school year. More specifically, we call on districts to publish plans for meeting students’ socio-emotional needs, fostering inclusivity, and ensuring educators are supported with the training and classroom resources they need to thoughtfully and holistically support students, such as those developed by respected organizations such as Teaching Tolerance.

new report by The Education Trust also calls for educators to address social-emotional and academic development, or SEAD, through a race-equity lens.

Research shows that while more than 90% of our nation’s public schools and districts in the U.S. report they are working to support the social-emotional learning of students, many of these practices focus solely on changing student behavior rather than implementing practices that build relationships and create learning environments that support positive social and emotional growth.

For example, many schools and districts choose to adopt stand-alone skill-building curricula that aim to teach students to manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

In Social, Emotional, and Academic Development Through an Equity Lens, the Education Trust lays out how to shift the focus away from “fixing kids” and toward addressing adult beliefs and mindsets as well as school and district policies to create an equitable learning environment.

School and district leaders must consider the context in which students live. Societal realities (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia), individual realities (e.g., socioeconomic status, family dynamics, experiences in schools, access to opportunities), and cultural background all influence social, emotional, and academic development.

Read the full report here.

Federal food assistance aid and nutrition programs for Michigan students remains urgent

As Congress begins the next round of negotiations regarding coronavirus relief, the need to increase access to and investments in federal food assistance aid and nutrition programs for Michigan students and their families—as well as families across the country—remains urgent.

In June, nearly 14 million students were food insecure. For families of color, the ability to provide adequate nutrition for their children is even more difficult at this time: 2 in 5 Black and Latino families with children are currently struggling to put food on the table.

To address hunger, and to supplant the meals that children would have received during school had their buildings not been closed due to the coronavirus last spring, Congress created the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program (P-EBT). This program provides food purchasing dollars on an ATM-like card that are equivalent to the monetary value of breakfast and/or lunch based on a child’s eligibility for free- and reduced-priced lunch if the child’s school had been closed for five consecutive days.

Michigan was the first state to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement P-EBT. According to a new report from New America and Propel“It has meant everything”: How P-EBT Helped Families in Michigan,” the leadership of Michigan state officials, coupled with data availability and accuracy of eligible students, resulted in approximately 900,000 Michigan children receiving critical food assistance benefits over several months to ensure they do not go hungry during this unprecedented time. In total, $300 million dollars were dispersed to families in order to keep Michigan students fed since March.

While Michigan is a model for what successful implementation of this program can look like, we know that P-EBT has the potential to help children and their families across the country access critical nutrition supports in order to grow and succeed academically during this uncertain time.

That’s why Ed Trust-Midwest urges our federal lawmakers to:

  • Extend the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program through summer 2020 and into the next academic year to allow households with children receiving free or reduced-price school meals to access food purchasing dollars if the child’s school has been closed for more than five consecutive days or is operating with hybrid or virtual instruction;
  • Expand P-EBT benefits for children under 5 years old;
  • Ensure that no further legislation is needed to extend the P-EBT program should closures continue into the next academic year;
  • Strengthen the P-EBT program by directing the USDA to work more efficiently with states and agencies to administer benefits quickly;
  • Increase the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) maximum monthly allotment by 15%;
  • Raise the minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30;
  • Suspend any administrative actions that would eliminate or weaken SNAP benefits or participation; and
  • Eliminate work requirements preventing college students from accessing critical SNAP benefits.

These efforts continue to be critical to ensuring Michigan’s students are fed and supported during this challenging time.

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@EdTrust: What does it mean to approach social, emotional, & academic development through an equity lens? Join @CASELorg, @AmericasPromise, & @EdTrust on Wednesday, Aug 19th at 3pm ET for #SEADChat