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Friday, March 10, 2017

MEA, AFT Michigan see potential in education commission report – if lawmakers take full slate of recommendations and goals seriously          

The 21st Century Education Commission report, released today, provides some stark warning signs about public education and some well thought out ideas for how to address issues. But unless lawmakers take the entire report to heart – instead of cherry-picking concepts to implement – real change won’t be possible.

“There are a number of sound recommendations in this report,” said MEA President Steven Cook, who was an appointed member of the commission. “Enhancing teacher preparation, improving educator professional development, providing universal preschool for all four-year olds and connecting human services to schools are all excellent ideas, but until we make adequate funding a priority and ensure the voices of front-line educators are heard in crafting education policy, none of those recommendations can become reality.”

The report notes that as recently as 2000, Michigan ranked 8thhighest in per-pupil spending, but since that time, the state has seen inflation-adjusted per pupil spending fall by $663 per pupil, while during that same time period, the U.S. average for per-pupil spending increased by over $1,400.

“These numbers show a spectacular disinvestment in Michigan public schools,” Cook stated.

The report calls additional funding for disadvantaged students, as well as additional resources for building maintenance in poorer communities.

“Education funding cuts have hit poverty-stricken communities the hardest,” said American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker, whose union also had an appointee on the commission. “Providing equitable educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged students and students with special needs, requires additional investment. We are pleased that the commission’s report recognizes that fact.”

The commission’s report reinforces findings from last year’s education funding study commissioned by the Legislature, which provided solid evidence that Michigan has failed to adequately fund public schools to achieve optimal student achievement. That education funding study showed that Michigan schools districts identified as “notably successful” have at least an $8,667 per pupil foundation grant.

The findings of that study noted that 89 percent of Michigan school districts are funded below the notably successful threshold.

“Now it is up policy makers to act on these recommendations and begin to rebuild Michigan’s public education system,” said Hecker.  

But just as important as fixing our broken school funding system is ensuring the voice of educators are heard in the policymaking process and that everyone involved is held accountable to the goals laid out. The message from the commission is clear on that front: “We must not expect that educators alone can be held accountable for these outcomes. Every stakeholder—from state lawmakers to students and from parents to teachers—must take ownership of our state’s outcomes.”

“Universal access to community college and strengthening the capacity of MDE and the State Board of Education to support the implementation of state mandated policies are transformative recommendations,” said Hecker.

We must avoid reforms that won’t work and recognize that the recent reforms of the past two decades have actually set us back. The report states that “unless we resolve to take action quickly to transform our current public education system…the prognosis for our state and its citizens’ future prosperity is bleak.”

“The truth is, we have transformed our public education system,” Cook said. “In the last 20 years, Michigan has the highest percentage of for-profit charters in the nation and we have destabilized our public education system which has poorly impacted our students.”

“Our state needs a cohesive plan that doesn’t pit schools against one another and that interconnects policies towards a larger vision,” Hecker said. “This is why everything in this report needs to be taken as whole – without ensuring all the commission’s recommendations remain interconnected, these ambitious goals are not achievable.”