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Opinion | Michigan parents deserve a bigger role in their kids’ education

“A drag queen for every school.”

Attorney General Nessel made this statement, apparently in jest, at a recent event of hers. Whatever one may think about the statement, it brings further attention to a major dilemma in the debate surrounding education that we face as education policymakers here in the State of Michigan: While truth is often said in jest, it is undeniably true that there are deeply held opinions concerning learning outcomes in our state and many are in diametric opposition as to how we should carry out a free and appropriate public education.

Brad Paquette
Brad Paquette, R-Berrien Springs, represents Michigan’s 78th district and is chair of the School Aid and Michigan Department of Education Budget Subcommittee. (Courtesy photo)

School districts are hard pressed to try and please everyone. Discourse pertaining to what and how content should be taught in our school buildings has come to a boiling point for many citizens. It is evident that some parents want tax-funded schools to teach their kids sexual identity, values, and even what purpose is in life. Most parents, however, believe these areas to be sacred and to be taught solely in the home, especially during elementary and middle school years. 

We are approaching an impasse that will not be assuaged by the thinking that one size comes close to fitting all, if even many. The energy around our school board meetings over these matters is the highest it has ever been in my 35 years. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it brings immense potential for reform which innovators have been seeking in order to produce young people who are effective in workplaces of the 21st Century.  

The differing outlooks have become intense subjects taken up by our political parties and thus bring about battles that do little to truly help those well intended educators and students in the trenches of the classroom. It becomes easy to lose sight of what matters most in our debate around the future of education, which is the learner, the parent, and the educator, all finding a way to achieve what they want most: harmony and life-improving outcomes through the learning process. 

So, what then in light of our current quandary? In public schools, parents already fight tooth and nail for their children to have the best teachers of their choice. It makes sense. While I was teaching, I had a front row seat to this process: students and parents requesting changes, counselors and administrators trying their best to accommodate these requests, and frustrated parents and students stuck in a rigid system.

The recently passed bipartisan budget proposal in the Michigan House of Representatives takes this reality into account while considering the passionate opinions surrounding teaching and learning. If signed by the governor, significant funding would be made available through intermediate school districts to enable willing teachers to be hired by parents to meet their child's specific learning needs and desires over the 2023 summer.

Parents would receive up to two “tokens” worth $500 each. These tokens can be used by parents to be paid to teachers based on the learning needs of their children in an ideal setting that the teacher feels most comfortable (which could be a micro school or one-on-one).

Although drag queens are not specifically included, the learning outcomes will be determined, and inevitably met, by the only parties who truly matter: the learner, the parent, and the educator.

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