Opinion | Gretchen Whitmer: Grow workforce by improving education

Gretchen Whitmer is former state senator and is running in the Democratic primary for governor

August 2018 update: Gretchen Whitmer wins Democratic primary for Michigan governor

Michigan used to lead the world in public education. This was the state families packed up and moved to because parents knew their children could get a quality public education and the skills to get a good-paying job. But now Michigan schools are falling behind. We’re consistently near the bottom of the country on almost every metric from student literacy to college preparedness. Less than half the students in every grade, across all subjects, meet basic proficiency standards.

As a proud product of Michigan’s public schools and an even prouder public school parent, I know that we owe it to all Michigan kids to fix our public education system so every student is prepared for success and can build a life for themselves right here in Michigan.

I recently released my plan for improving public education for all Michigan students, “Get it Done: Better Schools Now for Michigan Students.” My plan will help grow a talented workforce so every Michigander has a good-paying job so they can support their family and retire with dignity.

If we’re going to make Michigan a leader in public education again, we need to get every student on a path to a high-wage skill starting in their formative years. My plan focuses on the first 1,000 days of a child's life, prioritizing early childhood education funding and putting Michigan on a path to universal preschool. This will ensure every child enters kindergarten ready to learn. Additionally, we will invest in wraparound services like nutrition, dental and medical services that address barriers to learning for children living in poverty.

It’s time to start treating our educators with the respect they deserve. That means listening to our frontline educators about the challenges they face, paying them a competitive salary, and making sure they have safe classrooms and the supplies they need to educate our kids. It also means giving educators more time to interact one-on-one with students in their classrooms and collaborate with their peers to learn from best practices.

The current practice of evaluating and approving teacher training programs is not good enough. My administration will create a system for evaluating teacher training programs with a goal for improvement and parity where needed based on the expertise of education professionals. These are the best ways for Michigan to attract the best educators of tomorrow and reverse the teacher shortage.

We also need to ensure every high school student has a career plan when they graduate – whether college is right for them or not. My administration will establish the MI Opportunity Scholarship as a two-year talent investment for hardworking students, which can be used toward a certificate in the skilled trades, technical apprenticeship, community college or to pursue a four-year degree. This will give every student an opportunity to pursue a high-wage career.

Education shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but Republicans in Lansing have consistently sided with Betsy DeVos to push an education agenda that includes slashing school funding, expanding unaccountable for-profit managed charter schools, over-emphasizing standardized tests, attacking hard-working educators and adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to education. As a result, our kids are falling behind and our educators aren’t getting the support they need.

As governor, I will implement strong quality and accountability standards that every public school must meet, regardless of their status as a traditional neighborhood school or a charter school. This includes: requiring every school to accept all students, regardless of student needs; subjecting all schools to the same financial, health, safety and academic oversight; requiring all schools to hire state certified teachers; providing adequate financial oversight; and stopping the expansion of for-profit-operated charter schools.

Addressing these changes won't be easy, but I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work with anyone who is serious about finding solutions, because the key to a good job is a good education.

Let’s get it done.

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Tue, 06/19/2018 - 8:18am

Like all Democrats the Gretch has to go to their favorite Bogie man (woman) Betsy DeVos. When did Betsy DeVos push to slash education budgets for our kids? Or is this just another Democratic scare mongering lie! While you're at it Gretch, where the money for these plans going to come from?

Chuck Fellows
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 9:19am

PAY ATTENTION: Candidate Whitmer's proposal addresses issues plaguing our schools and contains recommendations to resolve these issues. It is comprehensive and thorough. It will require Michigan taxpayers step up and fund this proposed foundation for our children's future and the legislature be transparent in the application of those funds to learning. It requires all legislators set aside their ideological biases and political ideology to support investing in our children. It requires the current educational hierarchy examine their mindsets regarding education in order to support learning, not memorization of content, in the classroom. But most of all it requires that all of us listen to the people that do the actual work of learning, the teachers and the students. For a cognitive framework please view two videos on YouTube, Ken Robinson's "Are Schools Killing Creativity" and "Paradigms". For a deeper look the books "The Fourth Way: Inspiring Future for Educational Change" - Hargreaves and Shirley and "Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn From Educational Change in Finland?" - Pasi Sahlberg

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 11:42am

Sure as Ms. Whitmer's great hero said, "Let a hundred flowers bloom". And then she falls right back into the school assignment by zip code into mega schools that in no way can deliver the individualized student directed education she and your references claim to desire. Finland is a great example and I'd love to see options modeled after it. But you can bet if we offered this approach it would never fly inside our centralized top down system. Oh and by the way they spend significantly less per student than do we while delivering in many people's view a superior education.

Ed Haynor
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 1:07pm

I agree with Mr. Fellows, but would like to add a couple of points.

(1) Mrs. Whitmer’s plan doesn’t go far enough. She’s got the right proposal regarding early childhood education, at the front end, including services such as nutrition, dental and medical services, but scholarships by themselves is not enough at the back end. Although a “MI Opportunity Scholarship,” would be helpful, unless every student broadens their entire scope of education, many students leaving high school will undoubtedly still be left behind, because students in order to obtain a scholarship, no doubt, will still have to both choose and qualify for this route.

A Michigan public school game-changer is needed by creating a preK-14 grade education, for every student, since there is simply too much to learn in our present K-12 grade system. Just reading the recently released Michigan draft social studies standards should lead readers to the same conclusion.

(2) As shown by previous comments (future ones too, I’m sure), citizens need to look at the expense of Mrs. Whitmer’s proposal as an investment in our state’s children. Nobody likes to pay taxes, but I believe those countries and some states who lead the world in public school achievement, therefore economic development, well-paying jobs, etc., are the ones who look at education as an investment, not an expense.

Of course, an expansion of public education and the transparency and accountability requirements that goes with it, would have to be paid for. A simple solution, but constitutional change requirement, would be for Michigan to adopt a graduated income tax, where those at the higher income level would be required to pay more. Changing our current state income tax of 4.25% to a graduated tax of 3% for lower income levels to 8% for the most higher incomes, would seem to be most logical, practical and fair.

And recent polls indicate, the general public doesn’t feel those at higher levels of income are paying their share of taxes, since those at these same high income levels have many more tax loopholes than the general public, they take advantage of, which results in higher income individuals, actually paying less a tax rate than the rest of the population. Corporations too, must pay at a higher rate, since many large U.S. corporations offshore their income and don’t pay any tax at all.

It’s time for all Michiganders to come together on behalf of our state’s present and future youth and put their money where their mouth is.

Barry Visel
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 4:05pm

A graduated income tax is not a fair tax by definition, i.e., how can different tax rates for different people be considered fair? BUT, eliminating tax expenditures (exemptions, deductions and incentives) would be a fair approach. And if the MI State Budget estimate of the value of tax expenditures is correct (around $35B), would raise more than enough money to pay for higher education investments, not to mention our roads. I would also use some of that money to reduce the sales tax rate (benefiting lower income people more), and eliminate business taxes entirely, since businesses don’t really pay taxes (their customers, you and me, pay them in the form of higher prices).

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 10:56am

I read Ms. Whitmer's public education plan and while I don't object to most of what she proposes, I would have liked to read the estimated cost to residents and what role she believes the Michigan State Senate (no doubt it will be controlled by Republicans) will play regarding the promises she is making. To borrow a phrase from a movie, she's writing checks she can't cash.

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 12:09pm

An old saying - you can take a horse to water, it you can’t make him drink. Until the majority of kids really want to learn, you can pump billions of dollars into DPS and it will hardly move the achievement needle. I once volunteered to do a weekly DAPCEP hour in a Detroit school. Reasonable class size, but low interest. Four or five kids really participated. The other 80% took it as an opportunity to do other stuff. Even the teacher who was supposed to be there took it as an excuse to go elsewhere. You want to move the needle, you need parental involvement. For proof, just look at the Asian kids whose parents load big expectations on them with significant results. Lower the number of single parent households which is now about 70%. Make war on the illiteracy rate which is over 40%. And establish a path between school and an actual job. I doubt that any politician can solve the problem.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 12:16pm

Hmmmm, Michigan Promise v2.0.

And, just how long will it take Mrs. Whitmer to run THAT idea into the ground (again)?

T Smith
Tue, 06/19/2018 - 1:39pm

I read the plan, but missed seeing the budget section.

Dr. Richard Zeile
Wed, 06/20/2018 - 8:16am

Ms Whtmer appears to be behind the times. The good news is that Michigan is already among the top 15 of states in preschool access according to MLive-
I am not a believer in the promise of preschools- parental attention is far superior- but the progress in preschool access was made during the Snyder years, as the article attests.