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Opinion | Gretchen Whitmer: Grow workforce by improving education

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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