Labor Voices: Whitmer education plan earns high marks

Paula Herbart

Michigan’s public education system was the envy of the country. We provided our schools with adequate funding and led the nation in student achievement.  Families relocated to Michigan for good jobs and a great public school system. As recently as 20 years ago, Michigan led Great Lakes states in education funding and student proficiency. 

Today, we rank at the bottom of both categories.

Gretchen Whitmer, East Lansing, Democrat

This year, we have a golden opportunity to change course, reverse the trend, and put Michigan back in the driver’s seat in educational achievement.

Gretchen Whitmer’s candidacy for governor provides hope for students, educators, parents and business leaders that we will commit to ensuring a great public education for every child, regardless of their zip code.

Whitmer comes from a family strongly committed to public education. Her mother, grandmother and grandfather were public school educators. She has two daughters in the East Lansing Public Schools. When she speaks about her plans to fix our schools, she speaks from experience.

Her plan, “Get It Done:  Better Schools Now for Michigan Students,” reflects input from educators around the state who shared their expertise about what students need to be successful.

Whitmer will fix Michigan’s broken school finance system and ensure taxpayer dollars intended for educating students goes to that purpose. Her plan includes a freeze on creation of new for-profit charter schools, stopping the over-emphasis on standardized tests that strip joy and creativity from teaching and learning, and increasing respect and pay for educators so we can once again attract the best and brightest into the profession.

The plan prioritizes early childhood education funding, setting Michigan on a path to universal preschool to ensure kids enter kindergarten ready to learn. 

Whitmer will triple the number of literacy coaches so early elementary students who struggle to grasp the magic of reading will get help to succeed throughout their academic career.

A strong advocate of career/technical educational opportunities for high school students, Whitmer believes we need to invest in more skills training and career counseling so students can get a good-paying job, whether they pursue a college education or not.  And her MI Opportunity Scholarship would provide students with two years of debt-free postsecondary education.

At a press conference announcing the plan, Melissa Wriggelsworth, a Lansing fourth-grade teacher, explained her support of Whitmer’s gubernatorial candidacy from a teacher’s perspective: “Michigan desperately needs a governor who knows how to fix our schools and help every student get a high-wage skill. Teachers always put our students first. We need a governor who will value students as much as we do, respect educators like me and fund our schools.”

Educators are desperate for a Governor who will respect the professional expertise of those on the front lines working with students, instead of scapegoating educators for failing to solve all of society’s problems. 

Respect begins with listening.  As a member of the House and as Senate Democratic leader, Gretchen Whitmer listened to school employees and respected their views as experts.

In the last eight years, too many lawmakers have subcontracted their duty to provide the best educational opportunity for our students to Betsy DeVos and her destructive agenda: dramatic reductions in school funding; expanding unaccountable, for-profit charter schools; over-emphasizing standardized tests; and attacking hard working educators. 

The results have been disastrous.  Whitmer will take back Michigan’s education policy decisions from DeVos and those beholden to her – including Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has received more than $140,000 from the DeVos family.

For all these reasons, the Michigan Education Association is proud to recommend Gretchen Whitmer as our next governor.    

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.