So many questions, and a little bit of hope…
As you may know, before becoming elected to the State House, I dedicated my life to public education. I worked in K-12, then as an administrator, and also I teach a few classes at the UM-Flint. I have negotiated contracts from both sides of the table. I have scrutinized budgets, counted FTE (the number of contract hours a teacher earns fo salary), created programs, and cut teachers. These experiences have made me a pseudo-expert in practical school funding at the district level, so I was thrilled to be placed on the Appropriations Committee so I could finally see the larger picture of school funding. As I expected, it’s not a pretty one. As recently documented in MSU research (2019), and a research collaborative supported by the C.S. Mott and Kellogg foundations (2017), Michigan is woefully underfunded. This trend started decades ago, and has flat lined since.
I spent my recent snow-days absorbing the “Revised School Code.” This is the piece of legislation that outlines funding, education mandates, teacher tenure and evaluation, as well as other elements of our educational system. What became evident to me is how backward we approach state funding in general. It does not seem like we say, “We want all 3rd graders to read at grade level. To accomplish this will cost _______ dollars. We will create a system to provide those dollars,” or, “This test cost ____________ dollars. We get little real benefits from this test. Let’s save those dollars.”
Instead, we say, “We want all 3rd graders to read at grade level. After everything else is covered, we have a little bit of money left over to contribute toward this. It is not enough to actually see any benefit, and it is probably only for this year, but do what you can with the little that we have.” Of course, when we don’t see the desired outcome, the narrative becomes, “Our failing schools…”
Well, I am hopeful that finally this trend may be poised to turn around. We finally have a governor who supports public education. Maybe even more impactful, we finally have a business community who wants to see things change as well. I am beyond thrilled that my voice will be at the table as we discuss public school funding. I am excited that members of the business community are reaching out to be a part of the solution.
I believe you learn what an organization truly values by where they put their resources. I’m hopeful that Michigan is finally ready to TRULY value public education.
YOUR Representative from the 48th District,
Dr. Sheryl Y. Kennedy