On August 7, voters will narrow a field of four Republicans and three Democrats vying to become Michigan’s 49th governor. The Democrats in the race are former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed, millionaire businessman Shri Thanedar and former Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer.
What you see is Gretchen Whitmer has the backing of the Michigan Education Association. So, she’s made education a center point in her campaign. Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar have made this idea of getting rid of the profit motive in charter schools and banning for-profit charter schools their center message. But when you look at an overall strategy...on the Democratic side they’re similar in that it’s about investing money. It’s about putting money into Pre-K education and also finding ways to get scholarships for kids after they graduate from college so they can get some schooling and they can also get some kind of training that they’re not paying for years and years and years on afterwards.
Most of the Democratic candidates also just want to provide more money overall so that teachers, for instance, can get pay raises and more money can be pumped into classrooms. It’s a common theme amongst all of them.
Right...and closing the funding gap. Not every district in Michigan is funded the same way.
And that’s something that Abdul El-Sayed has made a good point of. He’d like to get rid of the funding gap. He’d also like to see something called a Michigan School Infrastructure Bank. He’s got this innovative idea that would eventually get more money into schools. He’d like to get salaries up another $75 million for teachers and (put) $75 million into professional development.
hat would spring from this infrastructure bank?
No, I think that’s separate. The infrastructure bank is just to improve the quality of the inside of the schools, some of which – especially in the metro areas – are not very good.
Yes...El-Sayed is the former health director in Detroit. He said he’s toured some schools where there were rodents in the school and clear signs of deterioration. He’s seen that firsthand and wants to help improve the buildings as well.
A $150 million investment sounds like a possible tax increase.
Well, you know what...you take a look at all the plans on the Democratic side and it’s hard to see how they get a lot of these things accomplished without a tax increase. Shri Thanedar, for example, (has a plan for) $500 million for career and technical education. You don’t just get $500 million and pluck that out of the budget. Gretchen Whitmer has a very expensive plan to make sure that all the money that’s in the School Aid Fund goes only to K-12 education. Under Governor Snyder, there’s been a big movement to get community colleges and higher education funded out of that. It’s creeping up to $900 million, that’s going to community colleges and higher education. So, if Gretchen Whitmer wants to put all that back into K-12, that’s a huge boost for K-12 but that’s a huge crunch for the general fund.
Right...that’s a big talking point with Gretchen Whitmer: keeping that School Aid Fund intact and not siphoned out for other projects.
Yeah...she can correctly state that she fought both Democratic and Republican governors on that front. That shift of school aid fund dollars to higher education actually started under former Democratic governor Jennifer Granholm, and Whitmer is on record voting against the education budget at that time for that reason.
We’re a week away from the primary election. Is it possible to get a sense of how the education message from each of these three candidates is resonating?
Well, I think certainly (Gretchen) Whitmer having the backing of the MEA means that her education message is simply getting out more. One of her themes as well is that not only that she has these policies, but that she’s going to bring educators to the table to help make decisions, which is something we haven’t seen as much of under the current administration. That said, from a strictly “talking point” standpoint, Abdul El-Sayed’s simple message of “de- DeVos” Michigan education has a ring to it for Democratic voters, I’m sure, who are opposed to some of the school of choice and charter expansion policies backed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos of Michigan.
That’s become a verb, hasn’t it? “De-DeVos.”
It’s interesting, though, that with the Democrats and Republicans there is some crossover. When you’re talking about literacy coaches and particularly not over-testing kids. That’s a theme; I think probably the best theme that you can see that transcends both Republicans and Democrats.