Every child deserves an exceptional education. Voters have a chance now to provide a unique and important opportunity — up to $500 million in additional funding for Michigan students.
The state House and Senate in October approved important new bills that would let taxpayers invest directly in our kids’ education by funding Michigan Student Opportunity Accounts. Governor Gretchen Whitmer made a disastrous mistake when she vetoed the bills, but thanks to a new petition gathering effort getting underway, parents will have the final say.
Michigan Student Opportunity accounts would equip families with grants and benefits above and beyond typical school funding that they can use for any education or learning expense — both inside and outside the classroom.
Boy is that extra help timely.
According to Gov. Whitmer, parents, and the latest M-STEP assessment scores, the pandemic took a real toll on Michigan students. Lost learning, falling scores, reading deficits and mental health challenges are behind every classroom door, and parents are fighting to deliver better.
Parents are telling school boards, lawmakers, and anyone who will listen that their kids need — and they deserve — instruction tailored to their needs so they can earn an education that allows them to stay on track during pandemic disruptions.
To their credit, members of the Michigan House and Senate listened, and they agreed.
They sent bills to the governor that would put access to new education accounts in the hands of families that qualify for free-and-reduced school lunch, those at or below 200 percent of the eligibility threshold, and the families of students with special needs and learning challenges.
Whitmer made a mistake when she vetoed these bills. But the new petition effort means the fight is far from over.
Giving parents extra flexibility and control could not be more important. The plan is practical, too.
Under the proposal, parents can use Student Opportunity Accounts to provide their kids new learning opportunities like online classes, access to Broadband Internet and laptops, tutoring and tuition to help them catch-up, transportation to school, and skilled trades training.
They can use them to pay for extra textbooks and curriculum, for summer school, and after school programs. The accounts can fund occupational, behavioral, and speech therapies. While our kids struggle through an emerging and worsening crisis of despair, the accounts can be used to cover lifesaving mental health services.
This is new funding that can rewrite our kids’ future, and it has sweeping public support.
Pollsters at the widely respected Marketing Resource Group asked voters what they thought about Student Opportunity Accounts, and the results were staggering. More than 80 percent of voters backed the proposal.
Numbers like that do not happen on most issues. That kind of bipartisan support is rare. The truth is, voters understand how important education is, and they’re ready to embrace creative new solutions that help Michigan’s kids.
They know students can use extra education funding now more than ever, but many parents are unable to afford the extra help they need. Student Opportunity Accounts bridge that gap and fill in those holes.
We have a solemn responsibility to the next generation. Gov. Whitmer might disagree, but parents know that giving students the problem-solving and critical thinking skills they need for the real world tomorrow means providing them more opportunities today.
Parents have been clamoring for solutions like this. They’ve thanked the legislature for acting boldly to help their kids. Gov. Whitmer did her best to keep parents out of their kids’ education, but she doesn’t get the final word.
They’re not her kids. They’re yours.
— Beth DeShone is executive director of The Great Lakes Education Project.