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Whose Top Priority?

Education is my top priority. Our children are our future.

Ask virtually any politician a question about education and those are the responses you’re likely to hear.

Well, Michigan residents aren’t buying it. Seventy-six percent of respondents to a recent survey said education is not a top priority of our state government. Just 17 percent said it was.

Because education isn’t a top priority, 46 percent said education has “gotten worse” over the past few years.

It’s little surprise that residents in Michigan’s I-75 corridor from Flint, Saginaw and Detroit were most likely to say education has gotten worse. Ravaged by the loss of auto jobs and the decades-long exodus of the middle class to suburbia, Michigan’s funding formula of “every dollar follows the student” has made it impossible for school districts in those cities to maintain a quality education for all students.

Better schools and safer roads were the top priorities of the 1,000 people surveyed via telephone for Your Child, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving education in Michigan.  Sixty-eight percent said there is too little funding for Michigan’s schools, even though 63 percent said it will take more than money to fix the problem.

If you were to ask our legislators if more money was the answer, it’s likely they would tell you voters turned down a statewide ballot proposal just a year ago that would have provided more money for roads and schools through an increased sales tax.

That may be true, but voters would tell you it was a convoluted proposal, difficult to understand, and one that was rejected because it promised funding for roads but did 18 other things as well. Unfortunately, the decisions of the past have undermined trust, which made it difficult for voters to believe last May’s Proposal 1 fully addressed their top priority at the time, which was fixing Michigan’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.

Fortunately, education IS the top priority for many of our region’s business leaders.

CEOs in 13 West Michigan counties organized under the name Talent 2025 are working with K-12 and college leaders to develop a talent pipeline that will fuel the region’s economy into the future. The challenge: to roughly double the percentage of the region’s residents holding some sort of post-secondary credential in the next decade.

They are working to fully understand the issues, the impediments to student achievement in K-12, the obstacles to college and career credentialing. Their work is thoughtful and thorough. Together, we will set an agenda for our work, locally and in Lansing, for systemic reform.

With so many high-tech jobs going unfilled, and projections calling for 64 percent of our workforce to have a post-secondary degree or skill-related credential by 2025, our work together is essential to our region’s future success.

Our children are our future. With Talent 2025, we’re working together to build it.

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Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler
Ron Koehler is the Kent ISD Superintendent and offers his commentary on issues in education.


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