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Opinion | Record-breaking investments mark new era for Michigan schools

Before I took office in the Michigan State Legislature, I taught social studies in southwest Detroit.

As students across our state head back to the classroom for the first few weeks of the new school year, they will be greeted by a series of much-needed changes that educators and parents alike have spent years advocating for — funding for at-risk students, teacher recruitment programs, and free school breakfast and lunch, to name a few.

Michigan Sen. Darrin Camilleri headshot
Michigan Sen. Darrin Camilleri is a Democrat representing part of Wayne County, and lives in Trenton.

This positive change is a result of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and my Democratic colleagues in the Michigan State Legislature opening our offices to the local community to hear from Michiganders across the state what issues matter most to them and their families. We took their feedback to heart, and as a result, we set records with the education budget we passed this year, allocating historic levels of funding for our children. 

I have seen the excitement firsthand from my constituents, who can feel the direct impacts of our new policies as money goes back in their pockets. For years, our community expressed the need to take education investments seriously. Now, we’re delivering just that.

While there’s still work to do, the changes we’re seeing in public education represent an undeniable shift in our state’s legacy and a legislature that is willing to bring the needs of parents, teachers, and children into the conversation. 

It’s easy, with all the progress we’ve made recently, to forget the tarnished legacy that past Michigan leaders left behind. It’s also easy to become complacent and ignore the fact that these bad actors are still very much at play in our state, working to control our students, teachers, teaching assistants, and entire education system. 

For eight years, including when I was a teacher, Michigan public schools were subject to politics of punishment, distrust, and disinvestment under former Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder’s two terms resulted in long-lasting damage to our state’s education system that we lawmakers are finally just now making a dent in undoing. 

We can’t forget then-Gov. Snyder’s “Education Achievement Authority'' in Detroit, which was mired in corruption investigations and academic failure before its schools were returned to the city’s community schools. Not only that, but Synder’s punitive teacher evaluation program disproportionately penalized teachers of color and caused higher rates of teacher exits from low-income areas of the state. The supply of new teachers dwindled during the Snyder years, and it made it more difficult for schools to keep class sizes small. Many of our kids had a revolving door of teachers, long-term substitutes coming and going, and as a result, Michigan faced a relative decline in our national educational position. 

We knew we had work to do when Democrats flipped the Legislature for the first time in 40 years last fall. We quickly began picking up the pieces from Snyder’s failed education agenda and began building a brighter, better education system. 

I’m excited to share that we are already seeing our schools take off. Our work as legislators has centered the best interests of students, their families and educators, and our new investments in the teacher pipeline will trickle down to ensure that we have the highest quality workforce serving Michigan’s kids. 

But we can’t be naive. As this new school year begins, we know Rick Snyder and other anti-education activists are still here, working behind the scenes to eliminate public education as we know it. We can’t forget that just last year, Betsy DeVos and her billionaire family spent $11 million to fund a failed ballot proposal that would push school vouchers on Michigan students, drain resources away from public schools, and prop up private schools with no taxpayer oversight. They may have failed last time, but they and groups like Moms for Liberty will do everything in their power to turn their anti-education agenda back into real world policy in our state.

There’s no doubt that Michigan is in a new era now — far from the days of  Snyder’s failed education “programs” — and has leadership that prioritizes education in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time. But we can’t get complacent or assume that this progress will last without a concentrated effort to stand up to Snyder and his dangerous allies — the future of our children and students depends on it. 

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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