Almost 60% of parents need schools to reopen safely so they can return to work

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Plans for the next school year are still unclear for many districts, but almost 60% of Michigan parents say school closures would impact their ability to return to work, according to a new survey commissioned by the Tri-County Alliance for Public Education.

“Many businesses and families are already under significant financial strain due to the COVID-19 crisis, and that is only going to worsen if parents aren’t comfortable and confident in sending their kids to school and going back to work,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), a Lansing-based think tank. 

Of the 600 parents surveyed from May 30 to 31, 44% said schools not opening in the fall would have an impact on their ability to pay their bills, and 56% said it would affect their ability to return to work.

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“Elected officials — especially at the federal level — need to act swiftly to allocate additional funding to support Michigan parents during this unprecedented time, especially when it comes to greater investment in child care and schools that will help parents get back on the job and our economy get back on track,” Jacobs said.

The survey results also show that parents have major safety concerns for schools next fall. 

Sixty-seven percent of parents surveyed said it is “very important” to meet or exceed safety recommendations set by medical experts, and 71% of parents believe that boosting safety protocols will require more funding to schools. 

However, school funding is already expected to take a hit in the state’s budget due to the recession crunching revenue coming in.

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The School Aid Fund  — which primarily funds K-12 education — is estimated to fall short by $1.2 billion for the current 2020 fiscal year, which would be a cut of about $650 per student. For the 2021 Fiscal Year starting Oct. 1, the School Aid Fund is expected to see another $1.1 billion shortfall.  

“We’re working together, both at the tri-county level as well as with Governor [Gretchen] Whitmer, to identify safe reopening guidelines, and we know every one of those new guidelines will have a price tag attached to them,” said Mark Greathead, Superintendent of Woodhaven-Brownstown School District. 

“Whether it be reduced class sizes that require more space and more teachers, additional busing routes to accommodate social distancing, sanitization supplies and procedures, or emotional support resources for students, these are all expenses that aren’t in existing school budgets. We need Lansing to act quickly to accommodate the significant added costs we can expect as a result.”