Michigan’s governor’s race will be Whitmer vs. Schuette. Here’s where they stand on education

Michigan’s governor’s race will be Whitmer vs. Schuette. Here’s where they stand on education
August 8, 2018 Chalkbeat Detroit

Former state Senate minority leader Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Bill Schuette will face off in November in the race to become Michigan’s next governor.

The Associated Press called both races before 10 p.m. Tuesday as Whitmer coasted past two opponents in the Democratic primary and Schuette easily topped the four-candidate Republican field.

The winner of the general election on November 6 will likely have an enormous impact on education across the state in coming years.

The next governor, who will replace term-limited Republican Rick Snyder, could preside over school closings. He or she could influence how schools are funded and measured, and could make crucial decisions about whether to expand preschool or address the rising costs of higher education.

Before the primary, Chalkbeat joined with a team of reporters from the Detroit Journalism Cooperative to interview six of the seven major-party candidates on a range of topics. We published their answers to key education questions, along with videos of the candidates’ education responses.

Schuette declined to participate in those interviews but later sent written answers to the questions. Unlike other candidates, his answers were not subjected to follow up questions.

Scroll down to read Whitmer and Schutte’s responses, edited for clarity and length. A full transcript of Whitmer’s answers to all of the questions in the hourlong interview is here.

About the Candidates

Gretchen Whitmer (D)
Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is a 46-year-old former state Senate minority leader. The Lansing native has undergraduate and law degrees from Michigan State University. She was in the state legislature for 10 years and has served as a county prosecutor. She lives in East Lansing with her husband and five children.
Bill Schuette (R)
Bill Schuette, a Republican, is Michigan’s 64-year-old attorney general. A native of Midland, Michigan, Schuette was elected as the state’s top legal official in 2002. Previously, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the state Senate and as a judge in Michigan’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. He lives in Midland with his wife. They have a son and a daughter.
Do you think Michigan schools have the resources they need to succeed? Do you think they are prepared to serve all students including special needs students? And do you think they are equitably funded?
Gretchen Whitmer (D)
No and no. We’ve got to do better by our children and that means not punishing third graders who aren’t literate. It means tripling the number of literacy coaches. Having universal early childhood education so every child coming into kindergarten is ready to learn. And giving our heroes who go into public education the support that they need. But it also includes a weighted foundation allowance, which I think goes to the heart of part two of the question. Study after study shows that kids in high-poverty districts cost more to educate. And we have to make a greater investment. That means more nurses and social workers, smaller class sizes, literacy coaches. Our historical funding in Michigan, we’ve got wealthy districts and we’ve got high-poverty districts. I don’t want to just move resources from one district to another. I want to make a greater investment in our kids’ schools by stopping the raids on the school aid fund. Just doing that alone, you could get about $700 million annually back into our education system.
Bill Schuette (R)

Michigan spends $15 billion annually on K-12 education. That’s one-fourth of our state budget, dedicated to our schools. Yet, since 2003, other states have consistently outpaced Michigan on education outcomes. Sadly, our third grade reading scores – a critical indicator of future academic and life success – are among the lowest in the country. We are not adequately preparing our children, nor are we building the talented workforce needed for a thriving Michigan economy.

All of this must change. I have a plan to reverse the last 15 years of decline and set Michigan on a new course toward educational excellence. We need to open our minds to new ideas and creative solutions in order to maximize that $15 billion investment.

Given that test scores are often driven by socioeconomic and other factors, do you think the state’s current accountability system gives parents a fair and accurate measure of how schools are doing? Do you think the state should use that accountability system to make school closure decisions?
Gretchen Whitmer (D)

There’s no question that we have to measure to see what’s working and what’s not working. The standardized tests that our kids are taking and taking and taking aren’t being used to really make tweaks in the curriculum or in the teaching or in the investment in our schools. It’s being used as a tool of punishment.

The thought that you punish families by closing down the option that they have, that that’s going to somehow produce a better result is completely backward thinking. When you look at states that are turning around districts, they put more resources in. They don’t abandon families. They don’t make it harder for them to find education for their children.

 

Bill Schuette (R)
As governor, I will work with parents, schools and other stakeholders to create a simple, fair rating system that provides useful data and drives school improvement. Parents deserve tools to help them clearly understand school performance and choose options that best meet their children’s needs. Schools deserve to have objective, reliable information that helps them identify areas that need improvement. And taxpayers deserve a meaningful school accountability system that recognizes return on investment. We must reward high-performing schools and hold them up as role models, while giving struggling schools the support they need to become successful. It’s not just about testing – other factors like graduation rates, teacher attendance and school safety are important to parents, too. We need to grade schools A-F, just like we grade students, and give incentive grants to high-performing and improving schools.
The Detroit Public Schools Community District, the largest district in the state, recently reported that it needs about $500 million to upgrade its facilities but the state won’t let the district borrow money for renovations like other districts can. What help, if any, should Lansing provide?
Gretchen Whitmer (D)
When I was in the legislature, I introduced year after year the ability to open up the purposes for which sinking funds can be used. It’s such a limited purpose and there are so many districts that have balances. Now I don’t know what Detroit public schools’ circumstances are on that front in particular. So I don’t know if this would have helped alleviate that. But I’ve been throwing solutions on the table for a long time. I’ve been in the minority and unable to get them signed into law, but that will change after this election. I believe we’ve got to give districts some flexibility to raise the revenue if they can. But it’s on the state to ensure that every child has a good facility in which to learn. No child picks what family, what school district, what zip code they’re born into. But every one of them deserves a great education to level the playing field.
Bill Schuette (R)
Considering the recent $617 million state taxpayer bailout of Detroit Public Schools, it seems prudent for the state to exercise caution about allowing the district to take on new debt. There are various state finance mechanisms in place to help school districts with facility costs, and as governor I would direct my departments to work with all school districts to ensure adequate facilities for our students and educators to study and work in.
Do you think Michigan needs to make any changes to laws regarding how charter schools are governed?
Gretchen Whitmer (D)
I do. Michigan is an outlier when you look at other states in the nation that have charter schools. So many of ours are for profit. There are not enough accountability measurements written into the law. The whole theory behind charter schools was that they would be untethered to the traditional oversights and so they would be able to innovate and have better results. But after decades of this, we now have seen they don’t necessarily have better results. Sure, some have had some success, but as a general rule they’re on par with public schools and so we need to have accountability and charters that aren’t working shouldn’t be siphoning taxpayer dollars out of our public schools and they should not be in existence.
Bill Schuette (R)
Mounting evidence shows that Michigan’s public schools, both charter and traditional, need to perform much better. Our test scores have been declining for fifteen years, and now are among the lowest in the country – a tragedy for students and an embarrassing deterrent to economic growth. We need to hold all schools accountable for performance with a simple, fair rating system. At the same time, we should give schools more freedom and flexibility to make good decisions for their students, rather than constantly imposing burdensome, one-size-fits-all mandates and requirements from Lansing.
What can the state do about the high cost of child care and lack of preschool options for young children?
Gretchen Whitmer (D)
One of the things that we have proposed in my jobs and the economy plan is drawing down more resources from the federal government. Right now we could be giving tax breaks to families for childcare and we’re not. We could expand early childhood education, which starting our kids off as four-year-olds would help alleviate some of that.
Bill Schuette (R)
In 2014 and 2105, Michigan funded the biggest early childhood education expansion in the nation – $130 million added to the budget, and an additional 21,000 four-year-olds enrolled in free preschool. The first cohort of those students are now last year’s third-graders, and we’ll be able to review their state test scores very soon. A recent analysis of Tennessee’s pre-K program and a new report out of the Brookings Institution have raised important questions about the efficacy of preschool programs and whether public resources might be better directed to other offerings that could have more significant and lasting benefits for children. As governor, I’ll work with the legislature to direct funding toward education options that are proven to give all our kids the best possible outcomes.
Do you believe the cost of higher education is prohibitive? If so, how will you reduce the cost of higher education?
Gretchen Whitmer (D)

It is. When I went to Michigan State University, the taxpayers I think picked up about 70% of the cost of my education. And it was on me and my family to come up with the rest. Now it’s just about flip-flopped. And we’ve had this mindset in the last 20 years that the only way to a career, an honorable career that you can make a good living in, is through a four-year degree. And so we’ve kind of pushed this mantra out there and stigmatized other paths and now we’re paying a price for it.

One of the pieces of my plan is the My Opportunities scholarship, which is a path to a debt-free, two-year degree for every Michigander. We can make that kind of investment toward bringing down the cost of a four-year degree and also opening up paths into the skilled trades. It’s actually not enormously expensive. It’s about $100 million a year. When you’ve got a $50 billion budget, $100 million is a small piece and I think we would find fantastic return on that kind of an investment.

Bill Schuette (R)
Skyrocketing post-secondary costs hurt students and families. Michigan’s colleges and research universities are some of our crown jewels, but we also need to have training and apprenticeship programs of a similar caliber to provide good choices for career-focused students. Not everyone needs a four-year college degree, and our schools need to place a stronger emphasis on skilled trades and other vocational education offerings. I plan to bring together educators, businesses, labor leaders and philanthropists to spark a broad cultural change that makes high quality career training central to Michigan K-12 education. Another part of my education plan is expanding dual enrollment and early college options that give kids a head start on post-secondary degree completion while still in high school. And finally, growing our economy and returning jobs to our state will make the cost of college less problematic because people will have more opportunities to earn a good living.

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