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Detroit — Mike Flanagan is less than four months from retiring, but the state’s top education official delivered a hard-hitting message Tuesday, urging action on poverty to help underprivileged students learn.

“We can talk about the progress we’ve made with 19 percent of students being college ready in all four areas, and 70 percent of students ready in three areas, but we still need to do better,” he said during the Michigan Governor’s Economic Summit and the Governor’s Education Summit. “We must be cognizant of all kids being ready.”

Flanagan, who is stepping down July 1 after 10 years as state superintendent, praised Gov. Rick Snyder’s pre-K education initiative but said intervention needs to occur even before children are born.

“We can’t get kids ready to succeed if we’re not taking care of them from the prenatal stage,” Flanagan said.

The state school chief approached the podium teary-eyed after receiving a standing ovation from the crowd at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center.

“That caught me off guard,” he said, wiping his eyes.

During his remarks, Flanagan reminisced about everything from his childhood to his own children.

But before leaving the stage, he drove home the need to boost lower-income families, and the difficulty of the challenge. “Poverty is a tough nut to crack,” he said.

“I bet a hungry kid went to school today a few blocks from here,” he said. “Teachers say ‘Let’s do math,’ when the kid arrives at school, but that child may probably be scared to death of getting back home safely.”

Flanagan said everyone must bear the burden. “Education is economic development, because one can’t happen without the other,” he said.

“Please don’t think it’s just the educator’s job to turn poverty around,” Flanagan said. “It’s our collective job together.”

Christine Beardsley, superintendent of the Eaton Regional Education Service Agency in Charlotte, said she was inspired by the dual summit.

“I think it was brilliant of our governor to combine both summits,” she said. “We’re all beginning to understand how much more mutually dependent we are on each other, and that the success of business equates to enrolling more students and more families can become more prosperous, and that makes it easier to educate the child who isn’t hungry.”

SLewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

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