By Chandra Madafferi
More than ever, our kids need a running start at a high-quality public education and a boost as they graduate from high school to prepare for the competitive modern workforce.
It starts in preschool, which provides the building blocks for student learning and development of essential social skills to last a lifetime. It continues in our K-12 schools, where students learn core subjects, develop personal interests and begin looking ahead to exciting career opportunities and bright futures. And it culminates in post-secondary education, where the workers of tomorrow acquire the skills they need today.
That’s why the Michigan Education Association wholeheartedly supports Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s plans for a comprehensive preK-14 education system for our state. This plan is nothing short of a gamechanger in preparing our students for the real world and good-paying, in-demand jobs.
Whitmer — hands-down the most pro public education governor in Michigan’s history — set the tone for this long overdue approach to helping students succeed during her State of the State address last month. Today, she announces more specifics as part of her proposal for the next state budget.
The governor’s plan creates boundless opportunities for students, helps attract the next generation of stellar educators to the profession, and makes our state one to be reckoned with on a national and international scale. It is a bold, forward-looking plan that directly benefits every Michigan student and educator, as well as local communities and current and future businesses from Detroit to the U.P.
And, on top of all that, the plan will reduce costs for working families for childcare and college tuition.
First, Gov. Whitmer’s plan removes the income limit so every family can access free preschool for their children. This starts young educational journeys on proper footing and ensures crucial foundational skills to become enthusiastic, lifelong learners. The evidence is clear: Studies show that 4-year-olds who attend pre-K and arrive at kindergarten better prepared to learn are more likely to graduate, go to college and earn more in their field of choice.
On the other end of the academic career, the governor is calling for high school graduates to receive two years of free community college education, which they can use to earn associates degrees, skills certificates or credits in pursuit of a four-year degree. Reducing financial barriers to continued education opens doors for students, continues Michigan’s push for 60% post-secondary attainment by 2030, and takes advantage of cutting-edge career training for great jobs, including those that don’t require a college degree.
This will reinforce Michigan community colleges critical role in creating the educated and skilled workforce our state needs to attract great-paying jobs and investments from businesses big and small.
Simply put, shifting Michigan to a universal preK-14 education system will transform our state by providing every student an equal opportunity to achieve and succeed, regardless of income or zip code. It also puts the Great Lakes State ahead of the game as a top destination for families, employers and talent nationwide.
As president of Michigan’s largest educator union representing education experts – our hardworking, committed teachers, support staff and other school employees – I can tell you Michigan’s educators are ready to put this pivotal plan into action. This universal approach to preK-14 education will create exciting opportunities to attract the next generation of great educators to our state.
We are eager to work with Gov. Whitmer, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, business and community leaders, and others to implement this bold vision. Working together, we can reimagine public education and create a second-to-none preK-14 system that makes Michigan a shining beacon of opportunity around the country and world.
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.