Regardless of your party affiliation or school district, most people in Michigan can agree that the state of our education system isn’t where it needs to be. Right now, Michigan is near the bottom in national funding growth.
Teacher salaries are stagnant at best, charter school regulation is non-existent, and right now, Detroit students are being forced to sue for their right to literacy. As a former teacher, I know we need to make changes now, and there are steps we can take immediately to course-correct and make Michigan the beacon of public education that it once was again.
A start is increasing per-pupil funding. Between 1995 and 2015, per-pupil spending in Michigan declined by 15% when adjusted for inflation, and our total education revenue is only 82% of what it was in 1995. A start in getting those numbers back up is the education budget my colleagues and I passed in the state Legislature, which increased the amount allocated to classrooms to $304 million, and special education services by $30 million.
To attract and retain the world-class educators that students across our state need and deserve, we also must provide teachers with a dignified salary, one that doesn’t require working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
In Michigan, only 12% of districts offer a starting salary of $40,000 or more, falling far below the national rate of 37%. On top of low starting salaries and stagnant wages, many great educators are already putting thousands of dollars of their own money into their underfunded classrooms each year. As an unsurprising result, we’re seeing a mass exodus from the classroom and a marked downturn in enrollment in teaching programs across Michigan, all amounting to a teacher shortage crisis.
Finally, increasing accountability over existing charter school management companies is imperative in fixing education, public and otherwise, in Michigan. Removing the profit motive entirely from our education system is also crucial if we want to hold for-profit companies accountable to our kids and communities.
Study after study shows that students at for-profit charter schools perform worse academically than those run by nonprofits, and in a state where nearly 80% of charter schools are for-profit more than anywhere else in the country — the consequences are dire. These companies don’t have the incentive to ensure students succeed, and as a result, they largely don’t. This leaves parents stuck with “schools of choice” that no one should have to choose.
If we want to create a high-quality public education system for everyone in our state, we have to do these things, and we have to elect people willing to fight for our educators.
Frankly, we should elect more educators. It’s time to stop expecting our teachers to perform miracles in their classrooms every single day when they’re not getting paid enough to get by, and when students aren’t being provided with the tools they need to succeed.
That’s not sustainable, and it’s not acceptable. If we fight for the necessary increase in funding, provide teachers with a respectable salary and the resources they need, and remove the profit motive from our system, our kids, and the future of Michigan, will be better off.
State Rep. Darrin Camilleri, D-Brownstown, is a former teacher, and minority vice chair of the House Education Committee.
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