Mike Flanagan, Bill Skilling, Gov. Bob Wise
State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, Oxford Community Schools Superintendent Bill Skilling, and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise answer questions from the audience at the “Online Learning Revolution” event.

Digital technology has positively impacted many aspects of our lives — and now even public schools are beginning to feel its impact. Traditionally, this large bureaucratic system has been adverse to change, yet the extraordinary and personalized opportunities being offered to children have already fostered an environment of limitless achievement. Recognizing these benefits, the Mackinac Center is leading a statewide charge to educate the public about the benefits of digital learning.

To this end, the Center invited Bob Wise, former Democratic governor of West Virginia, to Michigan on May 23. Gov. Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and co-chairs the bipartisan Digital Learning Council with former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Gov. Wise is known nationally for his expertise on digital learning, and travels around the country promoting the effective use of technology to improve teaching and learning.

The Mackinac Center arranged a full schedule for Gov. Wise’s visit to the Great Lakes State. In fact, even before he arrived, we arranged a radio interview for him on The Frank Beckmann Show on WJR-AM760 and an opportunity to place an op-ed on the importance of digital learning in the Detroit Free Press. Gov. Wise told Michael Van Beek, the Center’s director of education policy, that he was impressed we were able to get him a spot on the state’s most-listened to talk show and space in its most-read newspaper.

Perhaps the highlight of Gov. Wise’s visit was a luncheon event the Center hosted at the Lansing Center which also featured Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Both he and Gov. Wise emphasized the importance of expanding digital learning opportunities to a packed room of policymakers, school officials and reporters. Gov. Snyder especially appreciated the opportunity to meet and present with Gov. Wise. He said about the event: “It’s exciting. I think we’re going to learn some stuff today, and that’s what I love to do. Being a good nerd, I try to learn something new every day, and we’ve got someone to learn from.”

Such bipartisan leadership is rare in politics today, but this event demonstrated that party lines should not and need not interfere with good public policy. This, of course, is a core feature of the Mackinac Center’s philosophy.

Before the luncheon, Gov. Wise spoke to the Senate Education Committee. Van Beek worked with the chair of that committee, Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, to arrange for this public testimony. Gov. Wise discussed the urgent need to reform how schools deliver services to students, and praised Michigan for recently expanding the enrollment cap on full-time online charter schools — a policy the Mackinac Center recommended more than 18 months ago.

The final item on Gov. Wise’s agenda for the day was an evening event, also hosted by the Center and also in Lansing. This time the governor was joined by Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mike Flanagan, and Oxford Community Schools Superintendent, Bill Skilling - the subject of a recently published Mackinac Center case study. Superintendent Flanagan expressed his appreciation for the Center’s work: “There are good ideas, not only from the Mackinac Center, but from a lot of different places, and we have to feel comfortable to go and exchange these ideas and think differently.”

Altogether, over 200 people heard Gov. Wise speak in person about the importance of expanding digital learning in Michigan. The luncheon and evening event were both broadcasted live over the Internet as well, and more than 50 viewers tuned in that way. There were several news stories that covered these events as well, including ones in MIRS, Gongwer, WILS, Mlive.com and the Midland Daily News.

In the end, Gov. Wise said this about his visit and the Mackinac Center: “I came here to be a speaker at a few events and hopefully impart some information, and to be frank with you, I’m going to leave having learned far more.”