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Opinion | What Michigan must do in 2024 to improve K-12 education

With the new year comes a fresh opportunity to make an even more significant impact on the lives of Michigan’s children and educators.

Last year, tremendous legislative progress took place to improve education policy in Michigan, some addition by subtraction, some addition by addition. Noteworthy were repeal of the state’s A-F accountability system; repeal of the Read by Grade Three retention requirement; improvement to the state’s educator evaluation laws; teacher and counselor reciprocity; the ability of retired educators to help out in schools; and common-sense gun laws.

Michael Rice headshot
Michael Rice is State Superintendent of Education

Additionally, the legislature approved and the governor signed into law a budget that will help drive the goals in Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan, specifically addressing the teacher shortage; improving the health, safety and wellness of students and staff; improving early literacy; expanding early childhood programs; and ensuring more adequate and equitable school funding, including additional categorical funding for economically disadvantaged students, students with disabilities and English learners and, for the first time, general education transportation.

As I did last year, this week I sent a letter to the Legislature to outline additional efforts that would help further progress in 2024 toward Michigan becoming a Top 10 education state: 

School Funding and School Staffing. Thanks to strong leadership from the legislature and governor and the advocacy of the education community, the FY23 and FY24 education budgets were the strongest back-to-back education budgets in post-Proposal A (post-1994) history. That said, we are playing catch-up. According to a 2019 MSU study, Michigan ranked last nationally in total inflation-adjusted revenue growth during the 1995-2015 period. We must continue to improve the adequacy and equity of school funding, which will provide more resources for students and extend efforts to develop, attract and retain strong educators and support staff in districts across the state. Proper funding and staffing are upstream efforts that benefit students, schools, and staff throughout the state.

Student Instructional Time. Since 2019, state law has permitted the erosion of student in-person instructional time. Post-pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that student in-person instructional time is valuable, particularly for our youngest students, and supported in the research over remote instruction. We need to address and reverse this erosion of student in-person instructional time, in support of student achievement.

Career and Technical Education. Through career awareness, exploration and development, we need to engage elementary, middle, and high school students and, in so doing, increase children’s interest in a wide range of careers as well as children’s sense of the relevance and importance of education in preparing for these careers. We can do better for children in intermediate school districts (ISDs) that are not capable of supporting a CTE millage and by expanding funding to increase opportunities in areas where millages aren’t sufficient to support robust CTE experiences. CTE programs help us increase high school graduation rates and postsecondary credential attainment rates and give young people greater opportunities to pursue their dreams.

Mandatory Mentoring. A leading cause of educator turnover at all levels is a relative lack of mentoring. For years, the only mandatory mentoring in the state was for new teachers, and it was unfunded at the state level. There was no mandatory mentoring of new principals and new superintendents, and no mandatory training of new school board members.

The FY 2024 budget provided $50 million over five years for the mentoring of new teachers, counselors, and administrators, as well as $150,000 for the training of new school board members. The educator evaluation law passed in late 2023 included mandatory new principal mentoring. To this improvement, the legislature needs to add mandatory new superintendent mentoring and new school board member training. Mentoring of educators in new roles must be structured and strengthened so that educators are more likely to continue in the profession, to the benefit of children.

Children’s Mental Health. Funding for children’s mental health services has increased substantially, from no funding in the state school aid act in FY 2018 to more than $400 million in this year. While this is a tremendous improvement and has permitted us to begin to develop a comprehensive children’s mental health system in the state, three-quarters of the funding is nonrecurring and needs to be made recurring. Children’s mental health has long been recognized as a critical area for attention by educators.

Youth in Congregate Foster Care. Students currently living in congregate foster care settings often do not have the opportunity to earn credits toward high school graduation. This must change, and they must be provided with the same opportunity to pursue Michigan Merit Curriculum credits and high school graduation as peers outside of the foster care system.

Other efforts to better support all of Michigan’s children and educators include providing greater screening and interventions for students with dyslexia; expanding the school meals program to include children in more educational settings; making sure every child is enrolled in an educational setting of some kind; and greater financial transparency of education service providers in Michigan public schools.

We look forward to continued work with lawmakers and other policy leaders in the state on these and other priorities for the benefit of Michigan’s children. The legislative year 2024 brings a new opportunity to continue the momentum begun in 2023 for the benefit of Michigan’s children.

We can’t build a better past, but we can certainly build a better future. The urgency is clear. The time is now.

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