A budget defines priorities.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s K-12 budget tells Michiganders and Detroiters that she believes in public education, the children and families who access it, and the employees who serve those children and families.
We have all grown tired of elected officials, and those who aspire to elected office, offer endless platitudes about supporting public education, while underfunding it.
Gov. Whitmer does not just talk about the importance of public education. Her budget affirms that commitment. In fact, each of her proposed budgets over four years have called for increases in pupil funding, and positive movement toward narrowing the state and local funded equity gap between school districts with wealthy local tax bases and those that are limited.
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Specifically, the governor’s budget prioritizes more funding for mental health support, new textbooks and equipment, AP and honors classes, as well as support for special education, economically disadvantaged students, rural districts, and English language learners. To begin the process of the state taking more responsibility for improving the quality of school buildings, the governor is proposing a $1-billion investment in school infrastructure, which will help schools improve air and water quality, build new STEM focused facilities, and refurbish classrooms.
All children, and most school districts, were negatively impacted by the pandemic, from losses in enrollment to learning loss to mental health challenges. These challenges were more significant for communities of color and low-income households.
We need to stop pretending that K-12 public education investment is not part of the solution to better support our students and families, before or after a pandemic.
The investment in K-12 public education is an investment in children and communities. Period.
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We can have more public debate about how school districts can better spend and hold themselves accountable to increases in funding, but let’s stop arguing that greater investment is not needed.
Investment in K-12 public education improves staff retention and hiring, expands wraparound services for students, and addresses infrastructure challenges. The governor’s education budget proposal includes a $2,000 bonus for every school employee this fall, with additional bonuses if they come back in 2023. All of these factors contribute to raising student achievement.
Recently, Detroit Public Schools Community District received roughly $1.3 billion from the federal government in one-time funding to assist the district in overcoming the unexpected challenges of the pandemic.
This is the first time in my 20-year career that I have felt adequately funded to better address the myriad of socioeconomic challenges that urban schools face.
This funding allowed the district to return employees and students safely to in-person work and learning, but more importantly, it has empowered us to expand summer school programming, after school programming, increase literacy support for students, reduce class sizes, provide each school with a nurse and mental health resources, and make a major investment in long-overdue school building infrastructure. This has increased our average daily attendance, and improved literacy and mathematics growth among students as compared to the last school year.
DPSCD and other school districts should not have to wait for a pandemic to have the resources to best support their employees, students and families. Children do not care about Democrat and Republican platforms, campaigns, and politics. When it comes to K-12 public education, families want investment in their children’s futures. As a society, we all should agree on that point.
Regardless of school choice options and the politics that come along with it, the vast majority of Michigan and Detroit children are supported through public schools, and our most vulnerable families and students depend on it for a better future.
Let’s get behind Gov. Whitmer’s K-12 education budget, and commit to working out the details so we can continue to overcome the educational challenges of the pandemic.
Nikolai Vitti is superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District.