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Opinion | What Michigan must do, and stop doing, to rebuild education

With this new year comes a new legislative term, and with it a new opportunity to make a significant, positive impact on the lives of Michigan’s students, staff, and schools.

For the new state legislature in Lansing, there is real urgency to correct poorly conceived education laws from the past 30 years and move Michigan education forward, aligned with the ambitious goals of the state’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan. As any new education law often takes time to have an impact, this correction in course must be done quickly to help Michigan children.

Michael Rice
Michael Rice is Michigan’s state superintendent. (Courtesy photo)

I recently wrote to the new state legislature outlining legislative priorities necessary to re-build student achievement and the honorable teaching profession.

The recommendations involve adding value by improving education through streamlining or other reductions (addition by subtraction), improving education through increases or other amendments (addition by addition), and several other important measures.

We can improve through subtraction by:

  • repealing the retention portion of the state’s Read by Grade Three law;
  • repealing the state’s redundant A-F school accountability system; 
  • paring back the state educator evaluation laws that take so much teacher and administrator time away from children and returning responsibility for the process of evaluations back to local school districts;
  • streamlining teacher and counselor reciprocity to make it easier for veteran, out-of-state teachers and counselors to gain certification in Michigan; and
  • permitting support staff to serve as substitute teachers and retired teachers to serve in schools under particular conditions.

We can improve education through addition by supporting strategies that will increase student achievement, including:

  • further expanding Great Start Readiness Program flexibilities to incentivize an increase in pre-school time, and to increase transportation, teacher development, and the number of four-year-olds in the state’s award-winning pre-school program; 
  • making children’s mental health funding recurring rather than a one-time appropriation;
  • expanding LETRS literacy training, particularly for elementary educators;
  • increasing instructional time for many students to address unfinished learning, as well as increasing after-school and summer learning opportunities;
  • improving early literacy and numeracy by lowering and capping elementary class sizes in districts with the highest poverty; 
  • funding, training, and deploying tutors in high-needs areas;
  • funding parent education and family literacy centers in communities of high poverty and low student reading levels;
  • expanding career and technical education (CTE) programming in areas, often rural, that have limited offerings;
  • expanding advanced placement, dual enrollment in high school and college at the same time, and early middle college programs to make more rigorous the experiences of many high school students capable of this greater rigor;
  • funding the training and deployment of community and college mentors for students in high schools with low graduation rates;
  • making recurring the budget for Grow Your Own (GYO) programs for support staff members to become teachers to help address the teacher shortage, similar to the recurring funding for scholarships and student teacher stipends for aspiring teachers;
  • reducing and ultimately eliminating the home digital divide so that all students and families have internet access;
  • establishing universal meals in public schools by funding the difference between what the federal government funds and the cost of meals for all those who would participate in the meals program if given the opportunity; and
  • establishing requirements that youth in congregate foster care settings receive instruction that provides credit for high school graduation.

The governor and legislature deserve praise for the very strong fiscal year 2022 and 2023 education budgets. Other important legislative actions to strengthen public education include continuing to increase base funding and additional funding associated with students with greater needs, including students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English learners, as well as the addition of funding for transportation and school infrastructure needs; commonsense gun safety laws; mandatory new superintendent, principal, and teacher mentoring and funding associated therewith; mandatory new school board member training; better tracking of out-of-school students; and greater transparency associated with charter school finances.

There is an enormous amount to do legislatively in order to improve Michigan public schools, and no time to waste on the heels of long-time underfunding of public schools pre-pandemic and the loss of instructional time during the pandemic.

The State Board of Education, the Michigan Department of Education, and I look forward to working closely with Governor Whitmer, the legislature, the State Budget Office, education organization partners, parents, educators, business, and philanthropic organizations to adopt these and other priorities for the benefit of Michigan’s children.

2023 brings a new year. A new term. A new future for Michigan students.

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