Opinion: This math and literacy program needs immediate funding

Phil Weaver

If supplemental funding isn’t approved by state legislators in the coming weeks, Michigan may lose its most effective program that supports elementary and middle school students who need extra assistance with math and literacy skills. 

The Michigan Education Corps (MEC) provides critical support to Michigan children struggling with math and literacy, through one-on-one intervention and tutoring in some of our most challenged schools. It is a proven and cost-effective program that uses AmeriCorps volunteers, and costs less than $1,200 per student, each year, on average. 

The program has been supported in the part by state funds which may not be available this year or at any time in the future based on the status of supplemental funding proposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in early February and being considered by the state Legislature. This has the potential to end critical support for more than 3,000 students annually that are at risk of failing third grade literacy requirements.

State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice observes a third grade class activity during his visit at Ferndale Upper Elementary School.

To be clear, Michigan Education Corps is more than a simple “reading and math” program. Its elimination would have a dramatic effect on additional children repeating third grade.

According to recent M-STEP data, 55,000 students statewide, which accounts to 54.9% of third-grade students who took the test, are failing to reach basic levels of literacy. In addition more than 40,000 students don’t have a fundamental grasp on basic math. 

On the PSAT test given to eighth graders, 61.9% passed the reading section, but that was the only grade level that exceeded the 50% mark. Only 41.4% of eighth graders who took the math portion of the PSAT passed it. 

Despite these grim numbers, it’s important to note that not every student learns the same way — some need additional guidance beyond the classroom or through a tutor. Michigan Education Corps understands this and has put a program in place to support these students in a way that benefits them. 

Best of all, the results are there. MEC has been successful in 84 schools, 26 districts and 17 counties across the state, including the Detroit, Flint and Lansing school districts. More than 3,000 children from preschool through eighth grade are involved in the program. Of those, 80% of students are meeting or exceeding their literacy goals, and 74% are meeting their math benchmarks because of our intervention. 

There are concerns around implementation of the third grade reading bill which can hold back students for not reading proficiently. MEC is the most cost-effective and efficient solution operating today in Michigan’s schools. It shouldn’t be cut. In fact it should be expanded so it serves more than the 3,000 children who currently benefit.

We support Whitmer adding literacy coaches into classrooms, but the MEC helps out children today while costing taxpayers far less. 

I know that budget challenges exist at the statewide level. Michigan-based nonprofit Hope Network has generously been supporting the continuation of MEC programs despite a significant funding loss. Without this funding, it would be fiscally difficult to maintain the program throughout the rest of this school year and in 2020-21.  

We all want a better tomorrow for Michigan. A lack of funding for the MEC goes against that credo. Hope Network supports the efforts by state legislators and Whitmer to add funding for the Michigan Education Corps in a supplemental budget. It is simply too vital to the future of our state.  

Phil Weaver is president and CEO of Hope Network, one of Michigan and the Flint community’s largest nonprofits providing health care and life services to more than 20,000 people in 240 communities across the state.