by Félix Pérez
Long before she was a prosecutor and a leader in the Michigan Senate, Gretchen Whitmer was the daughter and granddaughter of educators. Little wonder then that her newly released education plan puts students first, addresses educators’ needs and counters a Betsy DeVos agenda that led to Michigan ranking at the bottom in education funding and student proficiency.
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“A generation ago, Michigan led the world in public education. This was the state families packed up and moved to because parents knew their children could get a quality education and the skills they needed to get a good-paying job,” wrote Whitmer. “Education shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but Republicans in Lansing have consistently sided with Betsy DeVos to push an education agenda that includes slashing school funding, expanding unaccountable for-profit managed charter schools, over-emphasizing standardized tests, attacking hard-working educators and adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to education.”
Her plan, which reflects feedback from educators statewide, focuses on the first 1,000 days of child’s life, placing a priority on early childhood education and putting the state on a footing toward universal preschool. Additionally, Whitmer’s plan:
- Triples the number of literacy coaches
- Provides the in-school support students need, including counselors, social workers, school nurses and healthy meals
- Addresses the needs of students and their families with community schools that provide wraparound services such as nutrition, dental and medical services
- Establishes a reliable funding source for early intervention services for infants and toddlers
- Ends over-testing and promotes alternative options that measure student achievement, and
- Creates a two-year, debt-free plan for every Michigander interested in postsecondary education or skilled training programs.
Macomb County music teacher Paula Herbart described Whitmer’s plan as “a golden opportunity to change course . . . and put Michigan back in the driver’s seat in educational achievement.” Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, wrote:
In the last eight years, too many lawmakers have subcontracted their duty to provide the best educational opportunity for our students to Betsy DeVos and her destructive agenda: dramatic reductions in school funding; expanding unaccountable, for-profit charter schools; over-emphasizing standardized tests; and attacking hard working educators.
The results have been disastrous. Whitmer will take back Michigan’s education policy decisions from DeVos and those beholden to her – including Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has received more than $140,000 from the DeVos family
Schuette, a proponent of private school vouchers and charter schools, is the Republican front-runner in the race for governor. Schuette defended in court for six years a law that took 3 percent of educators’ paycheck, for a total of $500 million. Despite his recent claims that he supported the lawsuit by educators, Schuette argued against teachers and support staff getting the wages they were rightfully owed. He decided to no longer defend the law when it was taken up by the Michigan Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the educators.
Whitmer titled a section of her plan Respect for Educators. “It’s time to start treating our educators with the respect they deserve. That means listening to our frontline educators about the challenges they face, paying them a competitive salary, and making sure they have safe classrooms and the supplies they need to educate our kids. It also means giving educators more time to interact one-on-one with students in their classrooms and collaborate with their peers to learn from best practices,” said Whitmer in an opinion piece. Among her proposals are evaluating teacher training programs, instituting mentoring programs to help new teachers, offering competitive compensation and professional working conditions, and establishing a Governor’s Education Advisory Commission “made up of educators on the frontlines of our schools.”
Melissa Wriggelsworth, a fourth-grade teacher who attended the news conference at which Whitmer unveiled her plan, said, “Michigan desperately needs a governor who knows how to fix our schools and help every student get a high-wage skill. Teachers always put our students first. We need a governor who will value students as much as we do, respect educators like me and fund our schools.”