Whitmer’s universal preK-14 plan is a ‘game changer,’ MEA president says

A picture of Governor Gretchen Whitmer giving a speech
Governor Gretchen Whitmer

EAST LANSING — Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, a teacher from Oakland County, issued the following statement Wednesday in response to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address:

“Gov. Gretchen Whitmer again showed tonight why she’s the most pro public education governor Michigan has ever seen. The governor’s plan to provide every student with universal free preschool and community college is an absolute game changer. It will transform our state’s education system, provide opportunities for every student — no matter their ZIP code — and make Michigan a top destination for families, employers and talent nationwide.

“Expanding pre-K to all children regardless of family income will ensure that every child can start their educational journey on the proper footing and receive the foundational skills they need to become curious and eager lifelong learners. Study after study shows that early childhood education can make a huge difference in a student’s long-term success. The governor’s plan for free, high-quality preschool for every Michigan child will make a monumental difference for kids now and for generations to come.

“Educators are also thrilled with Gov. Whitmer’s proposal to make community college free for every high school graduate. Whether it’s through preparing students for university or by providing them with cutting-edge career training for the jobs of tomorrow, our community colleges play a critical role in creating the educated and skilled workforce Michigan needs to attract great-paying jobs and investments from businesses.

“The Michigan Education Association looks forward to working with Gov. Whitmer, lawmakers from both parties, business and community leaders and others to enact and implement Gov. Whitmer’s universal preK-14 plan. Working together, we can reimagine how we do public education and create a high-quality universal preK-14 system that will put Michigan on the map internationally as a shining beacon of opportunity, and attract the next generation of great educators.”

Key education-related comments from Gov. Whitmer’s 2024 State of the State address included:

On free breakfast and lunch for Michigan students – “For every sweet child of ours in Michigan, we made school breakfast and lunch free. All 1.4 million public school students get 2 meals a day so they can focus on learning and parents save $850 a year on groceries, per child. I want to thank Sen. Darrin Camilleri and Rep. Regina Weiss who led this effort. When I introduce my next budget, we’re going to keep feeding students and lowering grocery bills.”

On investments in education – “Whether you’re in a small town or big city, a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, getting ahead or getting by, you want your child to succeed. I am proud of the record bipartisan investments we’ve made since I took office. Republicans and Democrats came together to raise per-pupil funding by 22% in 5 years. That’s hundreds more dollars for your child invested directly into your local school to lower class sizes and upgrade shop classrooms and computer labs. We also invested in campus safety and mental health and made breakfast and lunch free. When kids are unsafe… struggling… or starving, they cannot reach their full potential.”

On respect for teachers – “Every parent knows that the person standing at the front of the classroom matters. In some states, educators are being undermined, micromanaged, and even criminalized just for doing their jobs. In Florida, teachers are disrespected and book bans are rampant—heck, just two weeks ago, a district banned the dictionary! In Texas, nearly 1 in 3 teachers aren’t even certified.  That’s not how you improve education. In Michigan, we’re forging a different path.  We’re sending a message LOUD and CLEAR: we support our teachers. We walk the walk. We fund scholarships for future educators, pay student teachers, and help full-time teachers with their student loans so they stay in Michigan. We accept out-of-state certificates, so if you have experience, you can enter the classroom without jumping through bureaucratic hoops. As a result, enrollment rates in Michigan’s teacher prep programs are beating other states. If you want to teach, we want you here. We let teachers focus on doing what they do best: teaching!”

On a PreK-14 education system – “We want student outcomes to exceed expectations. We need to better prepare students for success after they graduate, whether they enter the workforce, community college, trade school, or a 4-year university. There is no “correct” path. It all depends on the person. What we can do is get them ready.  A big part of that is starting education earlier and continuing later.  4-year-olds who go to pre-K arrive at kindergarten better prepared to learn. They are more likely to graduate, go to college, and earn more. And we know higher education or skills training leads to higher incomes. If you get an associates degrees you can earn $23,000 more a year. The best-paying jobs today and in our future economy require some education after high school. We must support our kids from pre-K, through postsecondary, to prosperity. … We’re broadening our vision of education beyond K through 12. Every single Michigander can count on a free public education from pre-K through community college. That’s the Michigan guarantee. Let’s get it done!”

On expanding pre-K for all children – “Last year, I proposed Pre-K for All by the end of 2026, saving families $10,000 a year and giving every child a solid academic foundation. Together, we are changing our definition of education to include pre-K, and last year, we expanded free pre-K to 5,600 more kids. And you know what? This year we’re going to go a heck of a lot further. In our next budget, let’s deliver pre-K for every single 4-year-old in Michigan, 2 years ahead of schedule. When we get this done, no matter who you are, where you come from, or how much you make, your child can enroll in pre-K and be set up for success. Let this be a message to parents in other states—come to Michigan. We got your back every step of the way, and we’ll save you 10 grand on your child’s education.”

On free community college for high school graduates – “We know that education does not end after high school graduation. That’s why we lowered the cost of college with the Michigan Achievement Scholarship, saving students thousands every year. We made community college—and job training for medical techs and electricians—tuition-free for anyone 21 and older with Michigan Reconnect. Today, let’s go further. In our next budget, let’s make the first 2 years of community college in Michigan tuition-free for every high school graduate. As Michiganders pursue an associates degree or skills certificate at a community college, they can save an average of $4,000 on tuition. This is a transformational opportunity for graduating seniors and will help us achieve our Sixty by 30 goal to have 60% of adults earn a post-secondary degree or skills training by 2030.”

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