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The four major-party candidates running for two seats on the State Board of Education agree on the need to improve student achievement and they offer sharply different strategies on how to do it.

Republicans Jonathan Tade Williams and Maria Carl call for more local control over education policy and curriculum, while Democrats Pamela Pugh Smith and Casandra Ulbrich say the state needs to invest more money in schools to get better results.

Of the board’s eight elected members, six are Democrats, including Ulbrich, the vice president and chair of the board’s Legislative Committee, who is running for a second term. Democrats will retain a majority unless both she and Smith lose.

Key issues in the race for the eight-year board terms include Michigan’s adoption of Common Core education standards, school funding and Gov. Rick Snyder’s expansion of early childhood education. Also on the horizon is choosing a replacement for state Superintendent Mike Flanagan, who is retiring in July.

The board appoints the state school superintendent and oversees K-12 public education by making policy recommendations.

In June, the board approved a list of seven priorities, topped by these three: closing achievement gaps in reading and math, increasing the number of children in high-quality early learning programs and increasing the number of children who are reading at grade level by the end of the third grade.

Ulbrich, a Rochester Hills resident, is vice president for college advancement and community relations at Macomb Community College. She argues the state needs to take a fresh look at how it funds schools.

“It’s been 20 years since Michigan voters approved Proposal A,” Ulbrich said. “Today, our local schools are struggling to do more with less. It’s time to re-evaluate our funding model.”

She said she’s seeking re-election “because Michigan needs strong voices in Lansing who believe in the value of public education and will fight Legislative efforts to dismantle our local schools.”

Smith, a Saginaw resident and business owner, said the state’s schools need more resources to help students learn effectively.

“I have seen up close the devastation caused by the massive cuts to public education, ” she said.

Smith said, “I will fight for ... smaller classroom sizes, educators who are respected, and quality academic curriculums.”

Carl and Williams, on the other hand, said scaling back state and federal mandates is the key to unlocking innovation so local districts can improve student outcomes.

Carl, a Macomb Township resident and educational business owner, said she wants to end federal oversight of education and Common Core.

“It lacks parental involvement, student individuality, teacher creativity and local control of education,” said Carl, who is board president of the Walton Charter Academy in Pontiac. “In subject matter, it lacks the foundational qualities of the teaching of character education, American history, free enterprise/American exceptionalism, classical literature, as well as art and music (that stimulate learning) as required by the Michigan Constitution.”

Williams, a Jackson resident, is a political science professor at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, where he has taught for 17 years.

He said students’ readiness for college or the work force is “severely lacking” and that a loss of local control over schools is part of the problem.

“A number of struggles we see in our K-12 system come from the rapid devolution of decision-making from the local level to ever higher — less directly associated — levels of government,” Williams said.

Also on the ballot in the Nov. 4 election are Libertarians Kimberly Moore of Midland and Gregory Scott Stempfle of Ferndale; John Adams and Karen Adams of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, both from Lake Odessa; Green Party member Sherry Wells of Royal Oak; and Natural Law Party member Nikki Mattson of Ann Arbor.

SLewis@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2296

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