Betsy DeVos: With veto, Whitmer puts politics over children's success

Betsy DeVos

Strong reading skills are essential for students to learn and succeed. Literacy literally unlocks a lifetime of learning.

So it’s indefensible that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently line-item vetoed a new investment in Michigan’s young readers that was sure to help improve their skills.

The plan was simple: Michigan families could receive $1,000 reading scholarships to help less than proficient readers in grades K-5 hire a tutor or attend a summer learning program. It passed the Michigan House and Senate with nearly unanimous support.

It's indefensible that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently line-item vetoed a new investment in Michigan’s young readers, DeVos writes.

The program was fully paid for with federal COVID relief funds appropriated by Congress, designed for exactly this purpose: helping mitigate the significant COVID-related learning loss. And make no mistake, that learning loss was exacerbated here by how long the governor appeased the teachers' union bosses and kept schools closed.

Whitmer didn’t outright say why she chose to veto such a seemingly common-sense program, but the answer is obvious when you look at what campaign donors said. The Michigan Education Association said the money should have gone to school districts, which “are proven to do a good job for students.”

Tell that to the two-thirds of Michigan’s fourth-graders who aren’t proficient readers, according to the latest results from the National Assessment of Education Progress, more commonly known as The Nation’s Report Card.

That bears repeating: Nearly 7 in 10 Michigan students cannot read proficiently at grade level. 

Yet Whitmer won’t try something new to help them, because her political allies and donors — all of whom will get more money for their entrenched systems as a result — told her she shouldn’t.

How sad that Whitmer and her allies don’t respect parents and don’t trust them with the freedom, flexibility and resources (read: their own tax dollars) needed to do what’s best for their kids.

There are life-long consequences for every child in Michigan who cannot read, but it seems Whitmer won’t look past the next election and the valuable special-interest campaign donations she’ll receive from the teachers union bosses for, once again, putting their interests and agendas ahead of the interests of Michigan’s most vulnerable kids.

While their peers in other states benefit from similar ideas and programs, Michigan’s kids will continue to fall further behind.

As a Michiganian, it’s hard to compliment Ohio, but to their great credit, leaders there created child enrichment education savings accounts to support tutoring, tuition or before or after school enrichment programs

New Hampshire used some of its federal money to support an innovative program called “ReKINDling Curiosity” which will help students attend summer learning camps so they can “move beyond COVID-19 and be a kid again.”

Oklahoma’s “Bridge the Gap” digital wallet program gave grants to low-income families to purchase the technology, materials or tutoring needed to keep their kids learning.

These programs, and others like them in many other states, will help kids advance in positive, personalized ways after an incredibly trying and difficult year.

It’s simply untenable that Whitmer denied giving the same opportunity to Michigan’s students.

Betsy DeVos served as the 11th U.S. secretary of education. Follow her on Twitter @BetsyDeVos.