Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) vetoed a plan Tuesday to help 155,000 elementary students affected by her school lockout orders to get extra reading help.
Legislative Republicans included a $155 million provision in the school budget to provide $1,000 scholarships to students in need of assistance to improve their reading skills.
“It was a large pot of money and it smelled a bit of vouchers,” Bob McCann, executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan, told Chalkbeat after Whitmer struck the item from the $17.1 billion school spending bill.
The K-12 Alliance of Michigan is made up of government school administrators and union representatives. McCann was communications director for Michigan Senate Democrats when Whitmer was minority leader. Whitmer is an ally of the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
“We strongly feel it would be better invested directly into classrooms to support reading programs rather than create a voucher program that only allows some kids to get access,” McCann said.
But data from prior to the coronavirus pandemic and Whitmer’s punitive response to it suggest government schools were not adequately serving students’ needs.
Just 32 percent of Michigan students were proficient in reading in 2019, according to The Nation’s Report Card. In 1998, it was 28 percent. Other data from 2019 showed 55,336 third graders scored less than proficient on reading tests, the Detroit News reported.
The money would not have gone to private organizations or companies, but rather, the public Grand Valley State University, which has a virtual tutoring program.
“We appreciate the Legislature’s recognition of our work, which continues with the same passion and energy,” Grand Valley Associate Vice President Rob Kimball said to the school news site. “We look forward to supporting future conversations in which the university can contribute more to K-12 education in Michigan.”
Countless Michigan students fell behind after Whitmer ordered schools to close and provide instruction online, which few, if any, were equipped to do.
“I question what he’s really learning this way,” parent Molly High told WWMT last fall.
“This mode of learning isn’t working for him,” she said. “He needs direct instructions, someone there, someone he can ask questions. More of that hands-on learning.”
Researchers at the Northwest Evaluation Association predicted virtual learners would fall behind 30 percent in reading and more than 50 percent in math.
Senate Education Committee chairwoman Sen. Lana Theis (R) wanted the extra help funded.
“Not being able to read at grade level negatively affects all other aspects of a student’s schooling, with potentially lifelong consequences,” Theis said to Chalkbeat.
“It is terribly sad that our governor lets petty politics keep our kids from accessing scholarships to help them achieve one of the most important milestones in their lives.”