News Story

U-M Law Prof: Public Schools Must Reopen Or Won’t Get Money Under Law Signed In July

State budget requires ‘Each district shall provide at least 1,098 hours and 180 days of instruction’

A University of Michigan law professor who served as a special counsel to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says public school districts lack the authority to decide on their own whether to close this school year due to the coronavirus.

Nicholas Bagley, the U-M professor, was a special counsel to the governor on COVID policy. He wrote on Twitter that language in a school appropriations bill Whitmer signed into law July 13 removes public school districts’ authority to make their own decisions on closing due to COVID-19.

“To all 1,270 of you who signed an open letter urging Michigan lawmakers to require schools to provide five full days of in-person school per week this coming year, I have good news. It happened,” Bagley said in a Tweet. “The law doesn’t say that in so many words. In fact, it barely mentions COVID-19 at all. But if you work through the language carefully, that’s what it means.”

Whitmer’s office didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

Republican State Rep. Pamela Hornberger stated in a Facebook message that Bagley’s assessment was accurate.

“Schools need to meet the same hour & day requirements we had pre-pandemic,” Hornberger wrote. “They have limited flexibility for ‘Act of God’/Snow days, just like pre-pandemic.”

Many school districts have developed their own criteria for when to hold full-in person classes or have remote learning.

Flint Community Schools, for example, bases its class reopening decisions on COVID case rates.

The fiscal year 2021-22 school budget bill signed by Whitmer on July 13 includes the following: “To be eligible to receive state aid ... each district shall provide at least 1,098 hours and 180 days of pupil instruction.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.