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Schuette unveils proposal to boost state’s literacy

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Livonia — Michigan Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette unveiled Thursday a 10-point plan to boost literacy in Michigan.

“Two-thirds of Michigan’s third graders don’t have the ability to read a book,” Schuette said. “The reason this is happening is we have not placed reading as Michigan’s priority for our children. That’s going to change, and when I’m governor, Michigan’s children will read. Period.”

He made the remarks during a news conference held at the Robert and Janet Bennett Civic Center Library in Livonia.

Schuette’s criticism about reading not being a priority appeared to be a dig at GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, who since 2015 has pushed to boost third-grade reading rates. In 2016, Snyder signed into law a bill requiring schools to provide more assistance to struggling readers and hold them back if they fall too far behind.

Before the press conference, Schuette read the children’s book “Corduroy” by Don Freeman to a half-dozen preschoolers at the library.

Schuette’s plan calls for appointing a state literacy director in his cabinet and place reading coaches in the state’s elementary schools.

Other parts of the plan include establishing dedicated reading centers in schools, creating funding incentives for schools that raise students’ reading levels, forming public-private partnerships to help with funding and provide reading mentors, and establishing reading scholarships and summer reading camps.

There was no estimated cost for the Schuette plan.

“This has to be a full-court press on helping children read,” Schuette said. “It’s all about building a culture of reading in our state. It’s the key to our future.”

He said if elected governor, he will make sure whatever resources needed to implement the plan across the state will be available. His campaign has named the initiative the GROW — Great Readers On the Way — Reading Plan.

Schuette is among at least four Republican candidates vying to succeed Snyder. The field will be narrowed down in the Aug. 7 primary and the governor will be elected in the Nov. 6 general election.

Other contenders include Republicans Brian Calley, the current lieutenant governor, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township and Jim Hines, a Saginaw Township medical doctor. Democratic hopefuls include former Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, Ann Arbor businessman Shri Thanedar and Abdul El-Sayed, former executive director of the Detroit Health Department.

Some candidates released their tax returns earlier this week. Schuette released his earlier this year.

The attorney general also spoke to the media Thursday about his defense of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a school choice advocate from the Grand Rapids area.

DeVos has been criticized for struggling in Sunday’s interview with “60 Minutes,” during which she admitted not knowing whether traditional public schools in Michigan improved since she began advocating to open the state to choice and charter schools.

DeVos also said she had not visited under-performing schools in her first year on the job.

On Tuesday, Schuette defended DeVos in a tweet, calling her a “great” secretary of education.

“Betsy DeVos is a smart and gifted leader in education. Her critics simply do not want any change in the status quo,” Schuette, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, tweeted.

The tweet did not go over well with DeVos critics such as Whitmer, who tweeted in response: “C’mon Bill, even you can’t believe this!”

On Thursday, Schuette said DeVos is a good friend whom he holds in high regard. He said many of DeVos’ critics are still upset that Democrat Hillary Clinton lost her presidential bid in 2016. He also said didn’t see the interview on Sunday, but viewed it later.

“What I saw was a woman who is committed and passionate about education,” Schuette said. “Everyday, she goes into that office, trying to encourage and provide leadership on how do we get our education system to be the best in the world.”