A rally for education

By Kali Jo Wolkow
Kali Jo Wolkow/City Pulse

Michigan education rally emphasizes students, calls for more funding

Wednesday, June 19 — At 11:36 a.m., a few hundred Michigan students, educators and political leaders prepared for battle on the front steps of the state Capitol building.

Instead of shields, they were armed with hand-scrawled signs. Their messages ranged from the subtle admonitions of “If you can read this, thank your teacher, not the corporations,” to more sardonic ones of “Cut all the funding. That will fix it. Said no one ever.”

Introduced by Detroit radio host Tony Trupiano, Democratic political leaders such as Mark Schauer, who has announced his candidacy for governor, and Senators Gretchen Whitmer and Bert Johnson added their own voices to the battle cries.

Schauer said Republicans’ legislative actions reflect a mindset that profit is more important than the people, and specifically the children, of Michigan. Whitmer said that Michigan children deserve better.

“We are the voice of the majority of Michigan,” Whitmer said. “Because the majority of Michigan knows that the kids come first.”

The nonpartisan Save Michigan’s Public Schools organized the rally. It laid out a plea not for certain political associations, but for the community.

“It’s not a partisan issue,” said Stephanie Keiles, a Plymouth-Canton community schools teacher. “It’s a kid issue.”

Other speakers said student performances shouldn’t be gauged by standardized tests.

Rod Rock, the principal at Clarkston community schools, made the analogy: “Testing (students) incessantly makes them smarter just as measuring them incessantly makes them taller.”

Performance funding was also a topic of discussion for many of the speakers, who said schools are getting caught in a self-destructive education triangle. Funding is cut, so programs have to be eliminated. With program elimination, the quality of education decreases. And finally, with quality decreased, students’ grades also drop and funding takes another dive.

“I want for every child to have what I had,” Rock said. “These things are birthrights for children in Michigan.”

Despite the protests, Gov. Rick Snyder says the state is stepping up education funding, as evidenced in the state’s next fiscal year budget. Earlier this afternoon, the Governor’s Office released an email titled “Investing in Education,” saying that the state will increase per-pupil funding by 3 percent next fiscal year. The state will spend about $11.4 billion on K-12 education, or $7,450 per student, the announcement said.

“Michigan’s future is absolutely dependent on making our education system a success for our students, our teachers, our parents and our economy,” Snyder said in a statement.