By Chandra Madafferi
It’s a new day for Michigan students, parents and educators. With the pandemic behind us, a record level of funding flowing into local school districts, and concerted efforts to attract and retain talented educators to our children’s schools, we’ve finally turned the corner.
As the Michigan Education Association’s new president, I’m proud to work on behalf of my fellow educators — teachers, school support staff, and higher education employees alike.
With school starting soon, I’m excited that our educators will have more resources to help students close any learning gaps and reach their full potential. We are thankful for partnerships with parents, community leaders and elected officials, as they benefit both our students and our educators.
The bipartisan education budget recently signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is an excellent example of what can happen when we unite to advocate for public education. This fall, school districts will receive a record level of state funding, as well as additional resources for at-risk students, kids with special needs, student mental health support, rural transportation, and more.
Because hungry kids can’t learn, school breakfast and lunch will be free for every student.
Students who fell behind during the pandemic will have access to extra help and tutoring so they can get back on track.
Meanwhile, in many districts across the state, we’re seeing pay increases for teachers and school support staff that will help recruit and keep the great professionals our students need for success. Many students are benefitting from smaller class sizes, so they can receive more individual and small-group attention to become excited and joyful learners.
After a 67% decline in teacher preparation program enrollment between 2008 and 2016, the number of college students choosing careers in education is back on the rise. Education, business and labor leaders are partnering to ensure the number of new teachers continues to increase. Through the Launch Michigan coalition, we’ve successfully promoted substantial financial support in the state budget for aspiring educators — and we’re just getting started.
And just last week, the governor signed legislation restoring fundamental workplace rights that were unfairly stripped away from school employees in 2011. Restoring educators’ voices at the workplace will dramatically increase job morale and allow them to advocate for their students, schools, and profession more effectively. It’s pretty basic: Improving educators’ working conditions improves our students’ learning conditions.
While there’s no question that supporters of stronger public schools are making tremendous gains, many significant challenges are ahead. We must continue increasing school-based mental health support for students. We must continue providing additional assistance to students who’ve fallen behind so that they can get back on a path toward long-term success. We must continue to make our schools as safe and welcoming as possible, so that every student and educator feels secure and supported.
Whether we come from cities, small towns or suburbs, and regardless of our individual backgrounds or political beliefs, we all share a common goal of providing a quality public education for every student, so our kids can have the same opportunities we had.
There’s a lot of work to do, yet the future looks brighter than it has in a long time. I’m confident that this upcoming school year will be filled with hope, rejuvenation and innovation.
More than ever, MEA is committed to provide professional support for our members to meet the needs of students and drive innovation in the classroom – as we are preparing students for jobs which have not even been invented yet. As partners with parents and our communities, MEA is ready for the future and to face the challenges that lie ahead.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights Executive Secretary-Treasurer Tom Lutz and selected Service Employees International Union members.