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Opinion | School voucher petition harms Michigan school programs like CTE

As a career and technical education instructor of 22 years, it has been my life’s work to prepare students for fulfilling careers, providing them with real-world, hands-on learning so they can compete for jobs in the skilled trades and other in-demand fields.

James Sweeney
James Sweeney is an Oakland Schools Career and Technical Education instructor. (Courtesy photo)

That’s why I was very concerned and disappointed to learn of the latest school voucher petition going around that, if successful, would disinvest in public education in our state. This proposal would reduce revenue intended for public school programs like ours that prepare students for successful careers. Instead, the voucher proposal would siphon away funding to private schools through tax credits for wealthy individuals and corporations.

This ballot initiative comes at a time when Michigan’s public schools need fair, adequate funding more than ever to serve the unique needs of our students. That includes addressing the many new academic, social and emotional needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our public schools are critical to helping public school students — who make up 90 percent of students statewide — compete for the jobs of tomorrow. We should be doubling down on the success of those students, including CTE programs that offer training and even certification before graduation.

Instead, this measure will drain $500 million each year from state coffers needed to pay for those programs.

Michigan’s workforce is struggling to fill tens of thousands of jobs. Our public schools play a key role in filling those positions with qualified candidates and supporting Michigan’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

Our kids are competing for jobs on a global scale, and our public schools are essential to preparing Michigan’s future entrepreneurs for success. This proposal would only hobble our ability to prepare our kids for the jobs of the future and stifle our economic recovery.

This voucher scheme also violates Michigan’s Constitution and the will of voters – who for decades have rejected such blatantly unconstitutional attempts to give public money to private schools.

Republican lawmakers fast-tracked this concept in the fall, only to meet a swift veto from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Now, in an effort to end run that veto and the voters, the anti-public school advocates behind this voucher scheme are collecting signatures to make this bad policy law.

They need signatures from just a fraction of voters to get their proposal in front of the GOP-controlled Legislature for approval, without agreement from either the governor or the majority of voters.

That’s not democracy. It’s an affront to our public schools and programs that help prepare students for good-paying jobs.

This proposal is a slap in the face to public school educators like me who are struggling to meet student needs every day given the challenges of the pandemic, the educator shortage and student mental health challenges. 

Before the pandemic, teachers were already leaving the profession in droves due to compensation concerns, lack of respect from politicians and more. These losses will grow exponentially if educators learn a portion of the funds paying them will be diverted to private schools. 

This latest voucher ruse will also deter future educators from entering the profession. That’s of particular concern for CTE programs, which continue to grow in demand and evolve, requiring the brightest and best educators.

I strongly urge readers to decline to sign this dangerous petition, which jeopardizes our kids’ future and threatens Michigan’s economic resurgence.

Join me in standing up for our public school students and the skilled workforce and entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

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 Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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