Opinion: Whitmer’s rebellion hurts our kids

Mike Shirkey

Senate Republicans believe we can and must do better when to it comes to teaching our kids to read. Our children deserve better. The roughly 5,000 children that are projected to fail their reading benchmark should be a rallying cry to us all to do more to help our children succeed.

Instead, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer chose to use these children as a rallying cry to amass support from community leaders to help schools and parents circumvent our reading law.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer acknowledges some guests, during the State of the State address at the Capitol Building in Lansing, Mich. on Jan. 29, 2020.  She is flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, left, and Speaker of the House Lee Chatfield.

We are embarrassed by this display of unlawful resistance from our governor.  Michigan’s third grade reading law was passed in 2016 with bipartisan support. As written, the law contains provisions for legitimate exemptions to retention along with substantive latitude for judgment by parents and educators. These exemptions are intended to be the exception, not the rule.

To blatantly and unabashedly demonstrate complete disregard for the law, and by doing so, continue to set too many of our kids up for failure is disturbing and embarrassing for our state. Our governor’s call to ignore the law and essentially abandon these children is outrageous.

What is even more infuriating is the fact that a few short months ago, Whitmer vetoed funding for programs to help children learn to read. The hypocrisy on the part of the governor is off the charts.

State Sen. Mike Shirkey

Senate Republicans take this issue very seriously. We will be reviewing the third grade reading law for ways to improve it. We will explore what can be done to minimize the number of children who are not promoted to the next grade. We will listen to educators and parents on how we can work together to accomplish what should be a non-partisan and universally aligned goal.

Leadership requires problem-solving.  We should be focused on how we ensure our education system does not fail our children, rather than throwing in the towel and inciting rebellion.

We know our teachers are faced with a difficult job. Their jobs are made even more challenging by onerous state mandates, distractions from outside the classroom, and issues that once were only within the realm of parents. Student reading deficiencies are not an indictment on our teachers. It is an opportunity to work with educators to help find solutions that ensure our children succeed. 

No law is perfect. Laws are made by people and we are all uniquely flawed.

Whitmer must reconsider her irresponsible strategy to ignore the law and instead roll up her sleeves and join us in making reading the top priority for our education system. Our governor can begin by making a passionate call to parents and guardians to encourage early literacy experiences. 

We must carve out time to read and talk with our kids. That simple act will pay the highest dividends for our children and our society and will help ensure our kids are ready to graduate third grade.   

Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is the Michigan Senate majority leader and state senator from the 16th district.