Lansing lawmakers are debating the conditions under which Michigan public schools will be funded next year. The Senate has approved a proposal to ensure all districts reopen classrooms for face-to-face instruction. But given the weaknesses exposed in the public school system and the challenge of helping students who fell behind during the pandemic, it isn’t enough to simply return schooling
To be clear, every child in Michigan deserves the option of full-time, in-person learning. Even so, making this the sole focus of efforts to revitalize K-12 education would only result in lost student opportunities. The evidence observed in thousands
of homes during extended periods of remote instruction points to the need for some deep and significant changes, which most parents recognize.
The arrival of more than $5.5 billion in extra federal money offers a chance to restructure how public education is delivered. That chance is bolstered by the findings of the Walton Foundation’s recent national survey of nearly 3,000 parents. A sizable majority of those surveyed say the moment calls for “bold changes” to the K-12 system.
Most respondents also believe that a wide range of solutions could help students overcome ongoing educational challenges. One of the most popular ideas was to offer high school students more opportunities for college credit, career training and apprenticeships.
About half the parents told pollsters that their local school does not offer students enough access to these options.
Expanding that access is a primary reason for the Mackinac Center’s Flex Learning proposal. Under this plan, participating middle and high school students could exercise greater control over some of their
own per-pupil funding. They could enroll in a wide assortment of individual courses, apprenticeships and other learning opportunities. Each of these would have to be offered or sponsored by a school district, charter school, community college or public
The school aid budget backed by the House takes a small step toward flexible, customized education. It would remove some of the hurdles facing
students who wish to enroll in more than two online courses at a time, and would allow them to opt into courses offered by additional providers, including cyber schools and public universities.
Some creative ideas worth lawmakers’ consideration involve federal COVID relief funds. Parents backed most of them in the national survey. These include creating more public charter schools or learning pods,
making more high-quality tutoring programs available, and even sending families a $500 check each year to supplement learning expenses at home.
Another new legislative proposal combines elements of the last two ideas to address challenges facing young learners in the state. Senate Bill 448 would fund $1,000 scholarships for students who are in kindergarten through grade 5 and not reading proficiently. Their parents could use the funds to purchase instructional materials and tutoring services, or register in summer school or after-school
By considering the various options discussed here, lawmakers are sending an important message: Funding students, not just systems, is a priority. While districts certainly should resume offering full-time, in-person instruction, reading scholarships and
extra course choices represent two ways that Michigan public education can move beyond business as usual.
After all, that’s what most parents want.
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