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‘Rebalancing education silos’ requires transparent strategic plan
It’s become a typical legislative pattern: The Michigan House passed the state education budget last Tuesday, the Senate passed the legislation Wednesday, and Gov. Rick Snyder began the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce Policy Conference on Mackinac Island shortly after noon Wednesday with an announcement of the final school budget in his opening address. Bam!
The $15.1 billion education budget includes small increases in funding for state universities, community colleges and public schools, but it remains far short of the average funding in states across the country — with one big exception: a monumental increase for preschool funding that earns Michigan the top spot.
It is a giant step forward, though the K-12 issue looms like a one-eyed monster as Snyder tries to rebalance “the silos” of preschool, K-12 and higher education into a “streamlined P-20” education system. While it is imperative to capture a child’s appetite for learning beginning at birth, the “silos” that follow remain, but not likely for long. Continued funding cutbacks assure more Michigan public school districts will close their doors. It further paves the path for schools of choice and school funding that is attached to students, not districts.
Snyder was characteristically succinct Wednesday: “It’s about time,” he said from the conference stage.
The Great Start Readiness Program created by Snyder to help coordinate public preschool education opportunities found itself last year overwhelmed and underfunded. “Over the next two years we’ll get rid of the waiting list for preschool,” Snyder said, though that doesn’t acknowledge the estimated 30,000 preschoolers who were left out due to funding insufficiencies and also faced logistical hurdles and poor coordination of services, which must be addressed.
Rebuilding the K-12 “silos” must be balanced, and Snyder should outline a systematic course that balances the fear-fraught debate that only serves to pit like-minded individuals against such planning.
Michigan State Board of Education President John Austin last week penned a guest opinion in the Detroit Free Press noting the hurdle: “Certainly, there is tremendous anxiety about the current push by the governor, the Legislature and their allies to turn public education into a competitive free marketplace,” he wrote, also commenting on the fear that such a for-profit system would continue the funding inequities.
Snyder must address these fears head-on as he prepares for a re-election bid.
Last week, however, Snyder emphasized the need to continue to act swiftly and closed his education remarks noting: “There are jobs waiting.” And on that employers can agree.