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Michigan education advocates highlight Ohio's approach to funding if education cuts must be made

(WCAX)
Published: Jun. 24, 2020 at 8:34 PM EDT
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(06/24/20) - A Royal Oak-based non-partisan education advocacy group is calling for the protection of children who would suffer most under a drastic education budget cut in Michigan, and looking to our neighbors in Ohio as a potential model.

"We really need a new normal in Michigan. If all we do is rewind the clock back to February we're still going to have a system that drastically that underserves vulnerable students in the state, students of color, students from low-income families, English learners, students with disabilities and so many others," said Brian Gutman.

Brian Gutman is the Director of External Relations at Education Trust-Midwest. In its annual report, called

A Marshall Plan: Reimagining Michigan Public Education

, Education Trust lays out a road map to educational recovery to address issues that have come up with COVID-19 along with longstanding disparities.

"This report is a call to action for all Michiganders, and what really is needed is is for folks to contact their state legislators but also their district officials. There are a number of actions that we need state lawmakers that we need Congress to be taking to make sure that that our education system does not face a $1.2 billion budget shortfall that's going to be devastating for districts across the state particularly districts that were under resourced to begin with," Gutman said.

He says the state of Ohio can be an example for Michigan with how the governor and legislature handled budget cuts this time around.

"One thing they did was look at the population of students in the district, and so districts with, with more students from low income families are receiving a far lower funding cut, then than school districts that are serving primarily wealthy wealthy families," Gutman said.

Gutman and other advocates believe it's possible the achievement gap may be larger than before when students return to classrooms in the fall.

"Inequities that have long existed in Michigan public education are going to be exacerbated by long school closures," Gutman said. "Six months is a long time in the life of an elementary schooler, and it's not just going to be a six month learning loss. It might be up to a year because students -- when they're not gaining they're sliding backward."

The report used data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress to point out Michigan's current literacy standings. The Great Lakes State is 36th in the nation for literacy across the board. When it comes to fourth grade reading and eighth grade math, black students perform among the bottom 10 states in the nation, according to the report.

More Key Findings

:

1. Michigan is one of 18 states declining in early literacy since 2003, according the national assessment.

2. For low-income students, Michigan ranks 32nd for fourth grade reading and 44th for fourth grade math.

3. For white students, Michigan ranks 39th for fourth grade reading and 42nd for fourth grade math, a drastic decline from being ranked 13th nationwide for both assessments in 2003.

4. More than half of Michigan third graders were not reading at grade level before the COVID-19 crisis, and nearly two-thirds of seventh graders were below grade level in math on Michigan’s state assessment.

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"It's really concerning to see that between 2003 and 2019 on the national assessment Michigan has made no progress in fourth grade reading. This is an area that we focused on in policy," Gutman said.

He says funding is an important piece of the puzzle but there's more that needs to be done.

"What we really need to be doing is making sure that we're supporting, we're supporting learners and teachers from start to finish, in literacy, that is everything from making sure that the teachers in early elementary have robust professional development on the most recent science and best practice around literacy instruction," Gutman said.

The Flint & Genesee Literacy Network has been doing its part to bridge the gap in Genesee County.

"We definitely know in the state of Michigan there are some real struggles and challenges ahead of us. One of the things that makes us excited is that community and providers are interested in working together in addressing the fact that our state is behind," said Partnership Director Danielle Brown. "It's a great opportunity for us to recognize the challenges and then develop impactful methods for making change that supports children and families in the state of Michigan."

In a news release, Education Trust Executive Director Amber Arellano said this is a historic opportunity for lawmakers to seize given the state of the country, socially, economically and health-wise.

“Our schools are struggling greatly to improve key predictors of Michigan students’ future lifetime earnings and academic success,” Arellano said. “The learning outcomes of rural, low-income, African American, Latino and immigrant children are not simply the concerns of communities of color or the Upper Peninsula. This is about Michigan’s future economic success — and whether all Michigan’s children will have the skills they need to succeed in the global economy.”

"This shouldn't be controversial this shouldn't be partisan. This is about making sure that we're meeting the needs of every student regardless of where they live, or the color of their skin or their family income, it is as much about rural Michigan, as it is about urban Michigan," Gutman said.

You can learn more about the report

.

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