Op-Ed by PETE MAURER
A little more than a decade ago, Michigan lawmakers embarked on an ambitious program to prepare our high school students for the reality of additional learning after graduation. The Michigan Merit Curriculum was an ambitious, but very short-sighted idea. But who listens to teachers, then or now?
With a heavy emphasis on math and science, not to mention social studies and English, it soon became apparent to schools that in order to complete the very academically-oriented classwork, students would be limited in their opportunities to take elective classes.
Many districts responded by greatly reducing or eliminating many classes that involved skilled trades, such as wood, metal, and auto shop. If schools were being forced to prepare virtually every student for college, there just wouldn’t be room in their schedule for these types of classes. Teachers immediately saw this approach as foolhardy. Although all teachers want nothing but the best for their students, many also know that not every student, even in advantaged suburban districts, is destined for four-year colleges with advanced degrees.
Teachers know that a sizeable number of students, despite being intelligent and articulate, love to work with their hands. Other students, despite working to the limits of their abilities, just do not have the cognitive ability to perform at a college- readiness level.
And in a state where the lawmakers forced a rigorous, college-ready curriculum upon the schools and students, many of those students were left floundering, caught in a system which rewarded those headed for college, and consequences for those whose path in life was different.
Although some recent updates in the Michigan Merit Curriculum reflect the realities of high school students and their chosen career paths, there are over a decade’s worth of high school graduates who were not destined for college, but whose district failed to provide them with an alternate education more suited for future carpenters, auto service technicians, welders, plumbers, electricians, and other skilled trades.
And now, in the midst of another election cycle, it is especially aggravating to see Republican gubernatorial candidates talk about the need to provide more skilled trade classes for our high school students. These are the very same people whose stringent high school graduation requirements caused the mess in the first place!
And if that wasn’t enough, recent billboards around the state brag about how the Michigan Lottery has pumped $924 million into our schools in the past year, and over $20 billion since the games began decades ago.
This is a lie, and a big one at that! The Lottery does not provide additional money to our schools. It is a very clever shell game, designed to provide a backdoor conduit through which lottery ‘profits’ are put into the state’s general budget. How?
Let’s say the state decides to set aside $20 billion on schools for the year, and the lottery provides $1 billion in ‘profit.’ That sounds like $21 billion for our schools, right? Wrong.
What the state actually does is wait to see how much the lottery will provide, and then kick in the rest out of the school aid fund. In other words, in the example above, the state would only spend $19 billion, relying on the Lottery to provide the other $1 billion.
The ‘extra’ billion is then kept in the general budget to be spent on other services the state provides. Mind me, I truly don’t care that lottery ‘profits’ are used in the state budget, but, please, quit bragging about how it ‘helps’ our schools.
It never did, and was never designed to do that.
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