By Chandra Madafferi
One of the most important things we can do during the holidays is take time to practice gratitude and remind ourselves of all that we are grateful for. This holiday season, Michigan educators, parents and supporters of public education have a lot to celebrate.
Thanks to the hard work of Michigan Education Association members working together as a union, in just one year we have helped make Michigan one of the most attractive states in the country for teachers and education support professionals. After all, our students deserve the best and brightest working in our schools.
This is a direct result of electing educators and friends of public education in both the Senate and the House, plus re-electing the most public education-friendly governor we have had in years, Gretchen Whitmer.
Since then, our members have worked with the governor and lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation providing a record level of funding for public schools, colleges and universities. On top of that, we successfully advocated for free school breakfast and lunch for all students, as well as additional funding for student mental health support, school safety, educator recruitment and rural transportation.
We worked with coalition partners to pass common-sense gun safety legislation requiring universal background checks, safe storage of firearms, and a new red-flag law to hopefully prevent more tragedies like we saw at Oxford High School and Michigan State University.
Our members played a crucial role in removing a requirement in the state’s “Read by Grade 3” law that forced third graders to be held back for failing a single standardized test. Instead, educators and parents can focus on helping struggling students rather than punishing them for needing help.
We helped fix the state’s broken and punitive teacher evaluation law, and instead worked to implement locally driven evaluation standards that will help educators grow and develop their craft to serve students best.
In addition to the important gains in the Legislature, our members have continued to do amazing work in our classrooms, libraries, schools and communities.
We see the evidence of that work across the state, including with MEA member Melissa Lambert, a librarian at Allen Park High School, who recently received the state’s 21st Century Model School Library award.
We see it in the dedication of Ronald Smith, an MEA member who retired this year after 50 years of service to the students at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Community College.
Lambert, Smith and countless other educators make a difference for our students every day across Michigan.
We are committed to building on the past year’s successes as we look forward to 2024. There are many significant challenges still facing our schools. Too many students are battling mental health challenges and desperately need our help. Schools of every shape and size struggle to fill critical positions, from teachers to bus drivers to school psychologists and everyone in between. Many extraordinary school employees are under-compensated and considering switching careers, meaning a massive loss for affected students. These are challenges we must continue working on and remedying.
Yet despite the challenges that schools and educators have endured over the past few years, they continue to build, innovate and expand opportunities for our students. This year has offered a look at what is possible: a brighter future filled with hope.
We at the MEA are working to bring respect and joy back to the education profession. The road ahead has many obstacles to overcome, but I remain optimistic and grateful. Our strength comes from our members, parents, partners and communities. Together, we will build a better tomorrow for our kids and our state.
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.