Tom Watkins was state superintendent from 2001 to 2005.
The Benton Harbor school crisis is ground zero for a dysfunctional educational funding model and a state government that has been pretending to address the problem going back decades.
I foreshadowed many of these issues in a report I wrote in 2004.
If you have a hole in your roof, pretending to fix it does not keep the rain out. Our system of funding our schools is fundamentally, structurally unsound and follows economist Herbert Stein’s old adage: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
Addressing the Benton Harbor crisis should not be a Band-Aid, but a systematic cure. We need to ask: Are we going to prepare our students for their future and how do we create a rational system to do so?
Benton Harbor should be the 21st-century Kalkaska that forces the state to fundamentally change how we deliver and fund our schools. The Band-Aid request for Benton Harbor schools should be the impetus to spark an “Educational ‘Me Too’ ” movement. We need to demand that the system be fixed. The problems in Benton Harbor should be a canary in the coal mine moment for education across Michigan.
Without a “real” systemic fix, the tragedy of failing the students of Benton Harbor is coming to a community near you. A child without a decent education today is an adult without much of a future tomorrow.