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Gov. Rick Snyder gave his state of the state address Wednesday, January 18, detailing his accomplishments for the past year. So far, his claims are impressive.
Michigan’s unemployment rate is down to 9.3% from 11.1%. However, he doesn’t mention that some of that improvement could have stemmed from people leaving the state, being dropped from unemployment rolls because of expired benefits, or because the big three have turned themselves around and started hiring again.
He promised to treat the state’s money like a CEO and lo and behold the state has zero deficit. He has also managed to set aside over $200 million for a rainy day fund.
He promised to bring about financial change to cities in dire financial straits by changing the emergency financial manager law. Sure enough, the emergency financial managers now have virtually unlimited powers to rip up contracts negotiated in good faith, force pay cuts on employees, and enforce any and all austerity measures they see fit.
He promised to eliminate the Michigan Business Tax, and promised to pay for it by taxing pensions, eliminating the Earned Income Tax Credit, and ruling that school districts require their teachers to pay at least 20% into their own health care. All those things have been done.
He also promised to improve education, and to that end lived up to another promise to remove the 150 school cap on charter schools as well as online academies. He also introduced a teacher evaluation system that promises to make it easier to remove ineffective teachers while retaining effective ones.
All this sounds well and good on a piece of paper, but Snyder also managed to slash not only the K-12 School Aid fund, but also cut the educational budget as a whole, and cut governmental assistance to public universities.
My question to you, oh wise one, is how do you expect to improve something without investing a bit of money into it?
As an educator in the field of adult and alternative education, I have witnessed the effect that a lack of monetary investment can have on education. My school has computers with Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003 (which was the original software installed on the computer). It just recently added an electronic attendance system that is not at all suited to the program type.
The copy machine at this program requires regular maintenance that is not provided under any sort of paid service plan. The duplicator machine has been broken for several months with no word on when it will be repaired.
The program also depends very largely on the $7,000 per student the state gives to the school for enrollment. The fewer students that enroll, the less money the program has to invest in new computers. Teachers in this program are also under scrutiny for the number of photocopies they make when the copier is working.
To top it all off, the program is housed in a small administrative building with no windows other than in the front of the building. There is no cafeteria, no lunch breaks given to staff or students, and if enrollment is down, classes are cut and teachers are not paid for the cut classes.
If this is what Snyder calls improving education, it is clear that he is out of touch with the true state of education in his state.
I for one never expected to be an underemployed teacher. I was under the impression that teaching was a profession with which one might be able to pay their bills, raise children, own a car, and maybe have a little bit left over for having fun. I was also under the impression that as long as one was able to maintain their status as an effective teacher, you would never have to worry about losing your job.
The proof, it seems, is in the punch. It seems other educators and I who are employed in this program have to worry about losing pay that could make the difference whether we still have electricity, a telephone, a car, or even a place to live from month to month because the funding for our program depends on students who the education system has already failed. Students and staff alike are being told that they are not as important as dollar signs on a balance sheet.
Students whose classes are dropped will have to wait until the next semester to try to take the class again, further delaying their educational goals. Teachers who have their classes dropped have to worry about whether or not they will be able to pay their bills, whether they are effective or not. Frustrated students may leave the program and siphon more dollars from the program, causing effective teachers to throw in the towel and seek employment elsewhere.
It is sickening to think that this is the way our governor wants education to be. He claims that he wants jobs to come to Michigan, yet is unwilling to make the educational investments necessary to have a workforce qualified for those jobs. He claims that he wants poor, underemployed, and otherwise left behind workers to have a chance at earning their money, yet refuses to provide the necessary resources for them to get there.
Gov. Snyder has presented a mixed message regarding education in this state. It seems that he would rather evaluate teachers on things like personal appearance and likeability among staff and administrators than their actual teaching ability. He would rather hold teachers 100% accountable for what happens in schools rather than allow teachers to evaluate the job administrators are doing and hold bad administrators as accountable for a poor performing school as teachers might be for a poor performing classroom.
Gov. Snyder needs to focus on more proactive ways to reform education. Simply generating more forms that more administrators and secretaries will have to fill out, keep track of, and turn into the state is not the solution. Snyder should live up to his general claim of approaching things fairly by allowing evaluation to be a two-way street: teachers can evaluate administrators and even school districts as to whether or not their needs are being met in the same fashion teachers can be evaluated for their job performance.
And please quit expecting better results for less money. You as a CEO know that all businesses say that they have to pay top dollar for top talent. If you want top talent in your schools, why not pay them a few dollars more? Teachers who are effective certainly must deserve it.