Earlier this month, yet another damning report came out showing how badly the state of our educational system in Michigan is. We’ve seen the national 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book rank Michigan in the bottom ten in the nation on education. An adequacy study commissioned by the State of Michigan—which seems to have received little attention from state leaders—found that the state isn’t spending nearly enough on education, especially for students from families with low incomes. Then there’s the Education Trust—Midwest report predicting that Michigan will fall to 48th in the country in fourth-grade reading achievement by 2030 without changes. Now, our beloved state is one of a handful of states to be highlighted for its rate of growth in corrections spending, which was five times more than spending in education.
Where is the sense of urgency to prioritize our children’s needs?
Investing in kids, especially in their education, results in a more competitive workforce for businesses and the economy, more revenue for stronger communities and an overall healthier state. However, this most recent report from the U.S. Department of Education shows that over a 33-year period Michigan had the lowest growth in PK-12 education spending (18%) in the country while corrections spending rose by 219%.
The connection between education and incarceration is clear. According to the Department of Education’s report, researchers have estimated that if the high school graduation rate were to increase by 10%, there would be a 9% reduction in arrest rates. We also know that many people who find themselves in prison have not graduated from high school.
A strong educational system—that serves all children and recognizes current inequities—can become a powerful tool providing opportunities for economic security, better health, reduced criminal justice contact and more. These are not points that are argued against by state policymakers. However, we still await meaningful, comprehensive action. Yes, Michigan has been a leader in expanding four-year-old preschool, but that cannot be the end-all solution to improving things like third-grade reading. Building a foundation for lifelong learning begins with healthy births to moms who have access to earned paid sick leave and other supports in resource-rich, clean and safe communities with public transportation and affordable, quality child care.
On the other side, there are several bipartisan proposals moving in the Michigan Legislature that would reduce corrections spending and the prison population. Led by state Senator John Proos is a bill package to reduce recidivism and improve probation and parole which has passed the Senate. In the House, Representative Harvey Santana helped to get “Raise the Age” legislation passed. And, to help at-risk youth by addressing “Zero Tolerance” policies and reduce expulsions and suspensions through restorative practices are House-passed bills led by Representative Andy Schor.
It is a shame that Michigan stands out for not only poor educational outcomes, but for investing more to incarcerate people than to educate our children. While there appears to be bipartisan support for solutions to reduce reliance on incarceration and corrections spending, state leadership is sorely needed to reform and improve our educational system.
— Alicia Guevara Warren