Governor Gretchen Whitmer is now calling for one-on-one tutoring for children who have significant learning gaps because of the COVID pandemic. She wants to spend $280 million to vet and pay tutors.
Researchers from Harvard and Stanford have found that students in Detroit, Saginaw, and Lansing have lost the equivalent of nearly a year or more of learning due to the pandemic. The learning loss has hit children from economically disadvantaged families the most. Fourth graders now have the lowest reading scores in three decades. Children from all over the state are suffering from some degree of learning loss. In 2016, Republicans passed the “Read by Grade Three” law. Under this law, students were not allowed to progress to fourth grade if their reading scores were below a certain standard.
COVID threw a wrench into this situation, such that legislators proposed temporarily suspending the law. There are credible positions in this debate from both sides of the aisle. Some legislators wanted to extend “holding students back” to fourth-grade students as well. Others say this would not necessarily improve their reading scores but would create significant psychological harm. Black and Latino children have especially scored low on the M-STEP reading assessment test. All the more reason that our leaders in Lansing should have moved quickly on tutoring programs as many other states did.
Where was Whitmer on this issue in 2022?
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Federal covid dollars for education were distributed to the states known as ESSER funds (i.e., Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief). Each state was allowed to keep up to 10% of its federal COVID education funds to spend in any way that it saw fit. This amounted to $576.8 million in Michigan. Fourteen states decided to use that 10% to support tutoring. But not Michigan. Twenty other states have used state funds to expand tutoring and recruit tutors. But again, not Michigan.
Chalkbeat Detroit, Bridge Michigan, and the Detroit Free Press recently bemoaned the fact that there is a lack of state leadership on tutoring, with just a patchwork of inconsistent programs throughout the state. Some school districts have tutoring plans but are struggling with finding staff to hire.
It was also found that Whitmer signed off on the plan to send state funds for education to wealthier districts in the state. Much of that money hasn’t even been spent yet as these high-income districts are struggling to find “students who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic,” which the money must be used for exclusively.
She line-item vetoed a $155 million plan proposed by Republicans in 2021 which would have provided publicly funded scholarships of up to $1000 for elementary students to get private tutoring or reading instruction. The teachers union establishment went full blast against this legislation for fear of a $500 million loss in taxes. Their position is always to oppose anything that smacks of school choice or privatizing education, which encroaches on their power and control of tax dollars. The argument goes that “school choice will leave already underfunded schools with even less funding.” They claim that the education budget provides for early literacy coaches in their school districts. The idea is that teachers will stay after school to provide tutoring. Really? At a time when Michigan is struggling with serious teacher shortages, as is the rest of the nation? Since 2008, the total number of Michigan college students studying to become a teacher is down more than 50 percent. Thus, school districts are hiring “long-term substitutes” as a “bridge that spans the gap” when a regular teacher is not available. Yet, the Republican plan for hiring tutors is deemed inappropriate as it is “untested and unproven”? Apparently, public education plans have been tested and proven beneficial. How do we explain, then, the tremendous learning gaps and declining test scores? The National Assessment for Educational Progress showed that in 2019, Michigan ranked 43rd in the nation. Sounds like the “public education plan” ain’t working very well!
The teachers’ unions get their members revved up, inflamed, and angry that their salaries might be cut. That’s the bottom line. Meanwhile, these unions and educational establishment gurus hide the fact from the teachers that it is their policies, not those of the “deplorable” Republicans, that are holding back money from the hard-working, deserving teachers.
In addition, the reality is that studies have shown the enormous waste of money in our public educational systems. Public schools have allocated billions of dollars to hire more non-teaching staff as opposed to teachers, thus reducing teachers’ salaries. This is otherwise known as “administrative bloat.” And the number of administrative hires is way beyond what the level of student growth demands.
School pension costs have increased enormously. Fiscal experts have warned public school officials against “writing checks for pension plans they cannot provide cash for decades from now.”
The idea that private tutoring or school choice plans suck excessive money out of public schools is bogus on the basis of this line of reasoning from the website EdChoice:
School choice programs affect public schools’ funding and resources in the same way they’re affected when a student leaves because their family moved to a new district—except with school choice programs, public schools get to keep almost all of the federal and local tax dollars and usually a portion of the state funds allocated for each child. Yes, public schools get to keep a significant portion of money for a student they no longer have the responsibility of educating.
In our opinion, when a student leaves a school—regardless of type—the school should no longer have to pay to educate that student. When any school gains or loses students, it must adjust accordingly. The most-used form of school choice in America is the one where families access a particular school by renting or buying a home in the district or utilizing public-to-public transfer programs that allow them to attend a school outside the district where they live.
The biggest question policymakers have to answer when it comes to K–12 funding is whether the money set aside to educate children should follow them to the people and places that educate them—whether that’s in their district, outside their district, in a private setting, online or at home.
We believe it should.
A recent Detroit News Article notes that there is a $9 billion dollar surplus “sitting in Lansing.” And more than $3 billion is still available in federal COVID relief funding. Education funding takes up almost 28% of the state budget. There is more than enough money to get tutoring programs up and going. The problem is not money. The problem is Whitmer and the Democrats playing politics in an effort to bow to teachers’ unions to preserve and consolidate their power.
Besides vetoing the aforementioned $1000 scholarships, Whitmer vetoed dozens of other bills, such as summer school enrichment programs for struggling learners and the creation of education savings accounts.
District education leaders failed when they submitted requests for federal COVID education dollars. Only 223 out of 818 school districts included “tutoring” in their requests.
In 2019, fourth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) for Michigan students were 32nd in the nation. In 2022, it fell to 43rd in the nation.
Maybe the school-aged kids’ parents are having buyer’s remorse? After reinstalling Whitmer as Governor and giving control of the state legislature to the Democrats. Do they really have the interest of your kids at heart?
Guest Post by Becky Behrends, M.D. and Vice President of Research for Michigan Citizens for Election Integrity (MC4EI.com)