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Governor talks grit with second-graders, budget with media

Says unresolved spending plan putting pressure on local schools


On the second day of school, Meadowlawn Elementary School second-graders met the person their teacher called the “boss of the state,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who told them about using grit and perseverance to do her job.

“Sometimes it can be a very overwhelming job,” Whitmer, the state’s 49th governor, told students in teacher Julie Brill’s class, after explaining that she’s in charge of making sure people have good schools, clean water and decent roads. “You feel like there is so much to do, like there’s a lot of pressure and you don’t feel like there’s enough time to get everything done.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talks about grit with second-graders

She said she had to move past criticism when deciding to run for governor, and ignore the naysayers. “There were people who said, ‘We’re not ready for another girl governor,’” said Whitmer, the second female Michigan governor, following Gov. Jennifer Granholm. “It kind of hurt my feelings.”

“I decided instead of listening to people who weren’t being supportive … I was going to listen to people who said, ‘Yes, you can do it.’”

Whitmer told students the hardest  part of her job is facing adversity.

“The work we have to do is way more important than anything else,” she said. “I have to make sure I have a budget passed that will pay for things like your school, and support your teacher and support your education. And it’s not done yet. It’s getting late. I think it’s hard to continue to be optimistic and show people we have the ability to do this. We’ve got to show grit and do the work.”

Whitmer said she worked her way up to becoming governor after growing up in Grand Rapids, graduating from Forest Hills Central High School and attending Michigan State University. She then worked as a lawyer and served as a state representative and state senator. She is the mother of two teenage girls.

“Even on the hard days of governor when I might need an extra cup of coffee, there is no such thing as not showing up to work for me,” she said. “I always need to show up for work, just like you need to show up ready to learn.”

About That Budget …

After talking to students, Whitmer told the media that the current impasse in finalizing a state budget is putting unfair pressure on schools.

Legislators are still negotiating the $60 billion budget, wrangling over road and school funding. Whitmer’s proposed 45-cent gas increase to generate $2.5 billion in annual transportation revenue has not been well received by Republicans. Her budget also proposes a $120-180 per pupil increase for school funding, including a weighted formula in which more-expensive-to-educate students, like special education, low-income and English-language learner students, receive higher rates. The current budget is set to expire Oct. 1.

‘I always need to show up for work, just like you need to show up ready to learn.’ — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

School districts, who had to meet a June 30 deadline to finalize their budgets, are operating on estimated per-pupil foundation grant numbers.

“They are making decisions; they are starting class, based on some assumptions of what the legislature may or may not put on my desk and what I may or may not sign,” Whitmer said. “It’s a terrible way to do business. It’s one of the obvious problems of the legislature taking a summer break without getting a budget signed.

“This is the pressure we’ve put on every school district across the state of Michigan,” she added.

Kentwood teachers told Whitmer they would like to have resources for technology needed to work with English-learners, as well as for more counselors.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer answers questions from the media

“We are coming into schools and we have a wide variety of kids with a wide variety of backgrounds, and we need a lot of different programs that need support through funding in order to help us better meet the needs of our students,” Brill said.

Brill also wants legislators to know that standardized testing should not be the only measure of success. “It’s not the only determining factor for a child, and it’s very frustrating as a teacher when a child is reduced to a test score which is just a single snapshot in time. … There are so many things we don’t know what they are coming in with on a day-to-day basis.”

Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff and students said they were excited to welcome the governor.

“It’s always nice when our top elected official can come to our schools, show her support for schools and meet our kids,” Zoerhoff said.

Second-grader Daniya Harris said she learned being governor is an important job. “It is hard to be governor. I think she’s helping kids believe in themselves.”

Students had questions for the governor

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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