Michigan legislators will soon vote on two bills — of very different natures — that will determine education policy in the state.
One, introduced by Michigan Republicans and promoted my Governor Snyder, diversifies public schools to raise the achievement level of schools in the bottom five percent. It would enact the Michigan Achievement Authority plan into law, and might expand the existing 15 schools to 50, including struggling schools in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Flint.
Snyder established the Michigan Achievement Authority system in 15 Detroit public schools. The reform created an independent board and an emergency chancellor outside the authority of the Detroit School Board. It creates “student-centered” learning focusing on student achievement and allows innovative educational methods, including schools of excellence, public school academies, and vocational-tech options — all of which have high expectations for students and strict discipline models. Alternative models like this have proven effective in other urban areas.
The second bill, proposed by Democrat Senate Minority leader Gretchen Whitmer, distributes grants to all Michigan high school graduates. Though the amounts would vary, the maximum would not exceed the average cost of Michigan state schools. Supporters contend that the annual $1.8 billion needed to fund the proposal could be accrued through closing tax loopholes — and would not require a tax hike.
Supporters of both plans say their objective is to promote educational achievement. Both attempt to make better education more accessible. The difference, however, lies in the scope of the reforms and the long-term effect on taxpayers.
The Michigan Achievement Authority plan reaches 50 schools and redistributes current funds to bolster education performance in the lowest achievement areas. It enlists corporations and non-profits in partnership with Eastern Michigan University to establish and fund these schools. It recognizes that students thrive in diverse educational models, and it enables students and parents to choose options best suited to their strengths.
The Democratic proposal targets all high school graduates, distributing funds to students of all achievement and income levels. It could have far-reaching consequences for Michigan’s budget. Though closing tax loopholes might initially save revenue, the reform — as the New York Times reports — stifles business and would not sustain grants in the long run. Instead, legislators would either default on their promise or increase taxes. Low-income students already receive numerous grants from the local, state, and federal government.
These highlight questions Michigan legislators must answer: What role does the state play in education? What responsibility does it have to Michigan students? How do reforms affect taxpayers? Will either method ultimately help students rise above poverty while resisting tax increases — considering that 31 percent of tax dollars already fund education?
Additional funding has failed to solve low performance in the past, and legislators will accomplish much by remembering that students need more than money — they need stable families, good teachers, community support, and a healthy dose of hard work to reach their potential. The government may not be able to alter these cultural factors, but legislators can recognize these deeply-rooted obstacles and design legislation that encourages students to take initiative and apply their talents to their school work.