OP-ED: Rep Lasinski On Michigan’s Education Crisis

The following is a commentary from state Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township) who represents Michigan’s 52nd House District. Rep. Lasinski can be reached by email at DonnaLasinski@house.mi.gov, or you may visit her website at RepLasinski.com.

Regardless of political party or personal ideology, we can all agree on one important fact: our children are our future. They are the thinkers, entrepreneurs, builders and leaders of tomorrow, so Michigan’s success hinges on the opportunities provided to them in the classroom today. Yet for the past decade, our children have taken a backseat to the demands of powerful special interests to the detriment of us all.

Last month, a study from Michigan State University highlighted a troubling epidemic that anyone who has worked in a public school has known for years: Michigan is facing an education crisis. Between 2002 and 2015, after adjusting for inflation, spending on K-12 public schools fell a staggering 30 percent, with per-pupil funding dropping 22 percent. Meanwhile, for at-risk students that face the greatest odds and need additional support to succeed, funding fell 60 percent since 2001.

While they are certainly shocking, for many of us these statistics tell us nothing new. Before I came to the Legislature, I spent my life dedicated to educational advocacy. As the treasurer for the Ann Arbor School Board and the leader of the Education Millage Team, I witnessed in real-time the decline in school funding from the state. I know how difficult it can be to stretch what few dollars you are given to help the thousands of students counting on you to succeed. And despite how challenging it could be at times for us in Ann Arbor, I recognize we were relatively privileged when it came to how many dollars our schools received compared to our neighbors throughout the state.

Strong communities are built by strong schools. But when Michigan’s leaders fail to prioritize the needs of our public schools, where does that leave us as a state? Between 2003 and 2015, Michigan ranked dead last in the country for improvement in fourth-grade math and reading proficiency. This is unacceptable.

I ran for office for a lot of reasons. But chief among them was the need for a renewed commitment to the success of our public schools — and by extension, our state’s workforce — by Michigan’s leaders. We cannot continue doing what we have done and expect different results; that is the definition of insanity.

We need bold and robust solutions to turn Michigan around. Once upon a time the country looked to us as a leader in education policy and sought to mirror our success. Today, we find ourselves having lost sight of the ultimate goal of our education system: preparing our young people for success in a 21st Century economy and driving our state forward.

During my first term in the Legislature, I introduced and supported legislation that would make the kind of changes necessary to improve Michigan’s dismal education outcomes, like increased per-pupil funding, smaller classroom sizes and equipping classrooms with the latest technology. I am committed to continuing this work in my second term and look forward to the partnership we will have with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer leading Michigan to a brighter future.

Michigan’s students are counting on us to do better by them, and the nation’s eyes are on us. We cannot let them down.

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