There is no better investment in our economic recovery than an investment in education.
In the next few weeks, we'll have the chance to put this well-researched theory into practice.
Federal funds for public education are a major component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. By the end of April, Michigan will begin receiving these education dollars, which will provide both short- and long-term economic gain for our communities and our state.
During the next two years, more than $2 billion will come to Michigan public schools to ensure students have the educational opportunities they deserve. These funds will keep critical programs alive and produce results, including early childhood education and dropout prevention efforts. Investments can be made in training for teachers and other school employees to help students reach higher standards. Adequate resources can be obtained to make sure students are learning in high-quality facilities.
And these funds can guarantee that the most important resources our students have can be kept in Michigan's schools -- highly qualified teachers and support personnel.
Unfortunately, school districts across the state are failing to grasp the opportunity. Even with stimulus funds on the way, several districts have begun rumblings of program cuts and layoffs. Worse yet, some districts have seen this money as an addition to their already healthy rainy day funds -- another name for a stash of taxpayer dollars not being spent on students and programs.
In the extreme case of Pontiac, all the district's employees have been laid off, seemingly without regard for the well-being of students or the coming influx of money.
Whether in Pontiac or any other district, the result of mass layoffs will be devastating. They will translate into larger class sizes, reduced individual attention and chaotic upheaval in the lives of thousands of students who depend on dedicated educators who have devoted their lives to teaching and caring for our state's children.
The effect on our communities will be no less tragic. The loss of good school employee jobs will drain wages that would have been spent in local businesses, eliminate already scarce tax revenues and drive even more families out of our state.
Preventing these immediate and disastrous consequences is what the federal economic stimulus is meant to do. President Barack Obama laid out the intent of these funds during his major education address earlier this month, saying this investment "will ensure that hundreds of thousands of teachers and school personnel are not laid off -- because those Americans are not only doing jobs they cannot afford to lose, they are rendering a service our nation cannot be denied."
The beauty of this two-year investment in education is that it yields results now and into the future. In the short term, we can keep class sizes down, as well as keep people employed until our economy recovers and our schools can afford to keep the programs and personnel our students need.
All the while, we'll be looking to the future. What students learn in the next two years will stay with them. The increased training teachers will last their entire educational careers, benefiting a generation of students.
And our schools and their dedicated employees will be completing an essential task: preparing students for the jobs Michigan needs.
Especially in these tough economic times, we have to make smart choices about how we use these funds. We must grasp this opportunity and wisely invest in our students and our communities today. Delaying use of these funds will further threaten the ability of our students to succeed and our economy to recover.
We've been given an opportunity. Let's use it to make a brighter future for our students and state.