Gov. Evers today released details of a legislative package addressing COVID-19 including two provisions strongly supported by the WASB:
1) Waivers for state assessments and report cards for the 2020-21 school year; and
2) Allow rehiring of retired teachers and staff and the ability to reinstate their licensure through the end of 2021.
According to Wispolitics.com, these are two of 19 total proposals from the governor that were shared with legislative leadership. Speaker Vos is expected to announce a legislative package from Assembly Republicans later today. More details on the provisions are shared below:
1) BILL PROVISION: Waive student assessments and school report card requirements for the 2020-21 school year.
Agency: Department of Public Instruction
Fiscal: No appropriation.
Issue: K-12 schools are on the frontline of adapting to rapidly changing circumstances during the pandemic. They need flexibility in the face requirements that do not contemplate the magnitude of the pandemic.
- Waiving these requirements reduces the burden on schools that are devoting time to adapting their instruction and function as they move between in-person and virtual learning.
- Student assessments create a unique challenge and likely cannot be administered safely and uniformly. It follows that school report cards should also be suspended.
- Federal requirements related to assessments remain in effect for the 2020-21 school year, but this provision provides flexibility if those requirements are waived at the federal level.
2) BILL PROVISION: Allow rehiring of retired annuitants and ability to reinstate licensure (including people in the last 5 years and people from out of state) through the end of 2021.
Agency: Employee Trust Funds
Fiscal: No appropriation.
Issue: Statutory relief is necessary in order to support the COVID-19 response efforts of state and local governments by ensuring that experienced staff can be quickly rehired and deployed to in-need areas.
- This provision reduces the waiting period for a WRS participant who has applied to receive a retirement annuity must wait between terminating covered employment with a WRS employer and returning to WRS-covered employment from 75 days to 15 days.
- This reduced waiting period, which is in effect only through the end of 2021, applies to participants rehired into classifications deemed as important to the COVID-19 response efforts, as determined by hiring state agencies and local government public health officials.
- School districts in particular need flexibility to rehire retired teachers as they move between in-person and virtual learning during the pandemic. This flexibility will allow districts to provide smaller class sizes and virtual classes.
Other noteworthy provisions:
A workers compensation provision in the governor’s proposal is one that school leaders may wish to review carefully. Although not directly related to education, it provides that, for the purposes of worker’s compensation, an injury caused to a “critical worker” by COVID-19 during the period beginning on the effective date of the bill and ending on December 31, 2021, is presumed to be caused by the individual’s employment. The presumption requires a diagnosis or positive test for COVID-19 and may be rebutted by specific evidence that the injury was caused outside of employment. The bill itself does not define “critical worker” but would leave it up to the secretary of health services to determines which workers are considered “critical workers” during the specified period (i.e., the effective date of The bill and Dec. 31, 2021).
- At this point, it is impossible to know whether teachers or other school employees would be deemed by the DHS Secretary to be “critical workers” but if they were so deemed, school districts would likely face the unenviable task of trying to prove the worker contracted the virus outside of work (and how that worker specifically contracted the virus) during a period where community spread of the virus is extremely high.
- While it is possible the affected worker may have contracted the virus in school, it is also highly likely the affected worker may have caught the virus elsewhere. Rebutting the presumption by proving exactly and specifically where a worker caught the virus during a time of rapid community spread of the virus will be difficult at best.
- Of further concern is that the bill provide no appropriation for paying workers compensation claims brought under this provision. Unless this provision is amended to provide funding for such claims, it is almost certain that school districts and other employers would bear the burden of paying these claims.
BILL PROVISION: Allow critical workers, including healthcare workers, to claim worker’s compensation benefits related to COVID-19, presuming that they received the illness from their occupation.
Agency: Department of Workforce Development
Fiscal: No appropriation.
Issue: Generally, communicable diseases generally are not compensable under worker’s compensation and compensation is limited to diseases that are the result of long-term exposure to a condition of employment.
- Critical workers, as determined by DHS, are placing themselves in danger by continuing to engage with the public in various ways to maintain services, at the risk of contracting COVID19 themselves.
- As critical workers are in contact with the general frequently, a presumption of a work-related illness in their favor is appropriate.
- This provision does not include language from 2019 Act 185 that required employees to show they had been exposed to persons with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the course of employment.
See an overview of the spending: