Only a bipartisan solution can solve Michigan’s ongoing education crisis

It’s 2019, and over 50 percent of Michigan third-graders can’t read at grade level.

The state no doubt is experiencing a ‘crisis in education and skills’ – as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in Tuesday night’s State of the State address.

But it’s not a new problem.

Michigan third-graders rank in the bottom 10 states in the nation for literacy. And before people start pointing fingers at the inner city or public schools, this is a problem for schools across the state.

To address the problem will likely require overhauling the system, something Republican and Democratic leaders seem to agree on in principle. Yet they disagree on the way to move forward.
The big question: How will the state pay for whatever programs it hopes to implement?

The most likely options: Reallocate money from other parts of the state budget or raise taxes.

What can Gov. Whitmer and this Legislature do that decades of Michigan leaders have failed to do?

That remains to be seen.

Why a new bipartisan solution is essential

Whitmer’s call for a new bipartisan solution is an essential component.

“There is no such thing as Republican or Democratic school kids,” she said Tuesday. “This is not happening because Michigan kids are less talented. It’s not happening because our kids are less motivated. It’s not happening because our educators are less dedicated. It is happening because generations of leadership have failed them.”

We’ve been down this road before.

In 2005, a 41-member bipartisan group dubbed the Cherry Commission, led by former Lt. Gov. John Cherry, released a plan to double the share of Michigan adults with post-secondary education certificates or degrees over the ensuing 10 years.

But there was no consideration of how to finance the recommendations in the report. There has been progress – such as toughening high school graduation requirements – but, during the 2008 recession and Michigan’s painfully slow recovery, plans largely languished.

Now that Whitmer is renewing the call to reach similar goals, there must be a will to invest and pay for these initiatives.

Our kids can’t afford to wait for our elected officials to figure it out. Neither can businesses that rely on an educated workforce to be successful.

About 44 percent of Michigan’s workforce have completed post-secondary education – whether a four-year degree, community college or skilled trades certification – but it’s clearly not enough.

Since 2011, nearly all new jobs require education beyond a high school diploma, according to a 2018 report by the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable.

In Tuesday’s speech, Whitmer called for 60 percent of Michigan’s workforce to have completed post-secondary education by 2030 – an aggressive goal that will take bipartisan support to achieve.

But that’s what Michigan needs.

“Michigan’s greatest strength is — and always has been — our people,” Whitmer said Tuesday.

Hopefully, Michigan residents have elected the right people to finally solve the education crisis.

— LANSING STATE JOURNAL