In his second so-called “special message” delivered last week, Gov. Rick Snyder took on the state’s education system and unveiled a series of sweeping reforms that would, among other things, hike the amount of time a teacher would have to spend in front of a classroom before they received tenure and tie a portion of state school aid to a school district’s academic achievement by 2013.
In addition, he called for giving school districts greater control over seat time regulations, length of the school year, length of the school day and week, and added flexibility relative to instruction and traditional configurations of classrooms. Also included in his Wednesday, April 27 special message was a proposal to ensure that every school district in Michigan participates in the Schools of Choice program, and that out-of-district students could not be refused — although residents of a school district would still have the first opportunity to enroll.
Snyder also called for:
• The creation of a new Michigan Office of Great Start-Early Childhood that would coordinate more than 80 early childhood education funding streams into one central location;
• Removing caps on the number of charter schools in districts with at least one academically failing school;
• Allowing intermediate school districts to bid on services a local school district provides outside the classroom, and vice versa;
• The state Legislature to pass “a comprehensive anti-bullying bill that will be in place for the next school year,” but not one that dictates to schools how to deal with bullying — a move that was met with praise from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights;
• Allowing the state’s per-pupil foundation allowance, under an “Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” program, to “follow the student,” which Snyder said would help with dual enrollment, blended learning, online education and early college attendance;
• Doing away with the current continuing education requirements for teachers and instead replacing it with “ones that are clearly linked to teacher skill-building;” and
• Providing “testing out” opportunities for all students at all educational levels.
“This plan is about moving away from the outdated model of the past and giving teachers and students the tools they need to succeed in the future,” Snyder stated in a press release. “We have to start looking at students as individuals with different abilities that need to be taken into account, but also as individuals with unlimited potential to achieve.”
“I’m pleased the governor realizes our educational system needs to shift its focus to make sure all kids have access to quality education,” said state Rep. Bill Rogers (R-Milford), who chairs the House Appropriations Education Subcommittee, as well as the House Appropriations School Aid Subcommittee. “For too long, the focus has been on funding instead of fixing the problems that are harmful to our children and their futures.”
“Most of it’s OK with me,” said state Rep. Eileen Kowall (R-Highland, White Lake). “I certainly agree with kids being allowed to proceed on their own with the Any Time program. Kids should be able to progress at their own speed.”
She added that as long as tenure reform is done in a “reasonable manner,” she could get behind such a move.
But the address was not met without criticism.
While state Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West Bloomfield, Commerce, Wolverine Lake) said she was pleased with Snyder’s call for anti-bullying legislation, she said she has concerns about proposed funding cuts.
“I don’t know how all of it can be possible and the effect of all the cuts to education, how that plays out,” she said. “I think the Education Committee is going to be very busy.”
And the president of a major political powerplayer echoed similar sentiments.
“The governor covered a huge spectrum of education issues,” said Iris K. Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association, which represents over 157,000 teachers and support staff throughout the state. “It’s encouraging that he supports our views on early childhood education, anti-bullying and the need for administrator certification, all of which we outlined in our A+ Agenda earlier this year.”
“But Gov. Snyder provided 13 pages of ideas — and expects them to get done while he’s cutting more than $800 million from K-12 and higher education. That simply doesn’t make sense.”