I know we’re all tired of hearing about the 2016 elections.
But up until now, that’s mostly all we’ve been able to do – listen. On Tuesday, we get to have our say.
If there is one thing public school advocacy has taught me, it’s that elections matter. Our schools aren’t run and funded by magic, or by some mysterious automatic system. They are run by the people we choose for public office, from local school boards to the state Legislature and state Board of Education. If we don’t get out and vote, we’re letting other people make our choices for us. If we want change, we need to elect people who will make that happen.
So do your homework. Find out what the state and local candidates in your area have to say about our public schools, and make an informed choice about who you want writing the laws and making the budgets. A great place to start is Vote411.org, a service of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, where you can see who is running in your area and their position on the issues. Most candidates answer the League’s issue questionnaires, and the answers are often revealing.
And don’t skip the nonpartisan section at the end of your ballot: nearly every school board will have seats up for election, and many communities will have local school proposals to consider. We may be inundated with news about the national campaigns, but choices we make at the local level are equally important.
Third Grade reading: As many of you probably know, the so-called “third grade reading bill” (HB 4822) was passed by the Legislature after rushed behind-the-scenes negotiations in September. Gov. Snyder signed it into law in mid-October. While we had hope for the bill originally, since it acknowledged that schools might need new tools and resources to help struggling readers, we strongly opposed the final version. The new law relies heavily on the threat of flunking students to “incentivize” someone (the child?) to do better; it also fails to commit anywhere near the amount of money needed to fully meet the new requirements. We’re starting a research project looking at the impact of the law on schools around the state – look for more on that later.
Restorative practices bills: On the other hand, in a fit of bi-partisanship, a set of bills to soften “zero tolerance” disciplinary requirements and encourage restorative justice practices looks to be on its way into law with support from both parties. (HB 5618-5621, now waiting on the Senate floor.) We join the long list of school organizations which support these bills, which we hope will reduce the currently very high rates of out-of-school suspensions and be more effective at dealing with disruptive behavior in school. It’s a reminder that good things can happen in Lansing, if you work hard enough.
Finally, on a personal note:
My mother passed away in September, just short of being able to cast a vote in this election. She was a longtime public interest advocate, civil rights worker, and community volunteer. My mother taught me whatever I know about advocacy in service to the public, helping citizens organize to find their voice on policy issues, and how to make that voice heard in state legislatures.
As the child of Greek immigrants, nothing was more precious to her than her American citizenship and the right that gave her to vote. She spent much of her life working to ensure that every American could use that power without interference, and to help citizens make informed choices when they vote.
She will not be able to cast a ballot in this election, though she very much wanted to. So, please, on behalf of those who have gone before, and on behalf of our children, make sure you use your vote and use it wisely. Make a plan to vote next Tuesday.
See you at the voting booth!
Steve Norton, executive director, Michigan Parents for Schools
Who we are:
We’re a group of Michigan public school parents who are worried about the funding problems our schools face and the consequences this has for our kids and our communities. We feel it’s time to take action as parents and as citizens to make sure our schools have the resources they need to educate our children.
Education is Michigan’s investment in the future. This is not the time, as our state and communities are facing economic setbacks, to be pulling the props out from under our public schools. It’s time to make our voices heard. We have joined together to inform our fellow citizens about the issues facing our schools and to help all of us express our hopes and concerns to our elected representatives.
We hope you’ll join us!
Jennifer Tanau – Chair, Board of Directors
Jeannette Jackson – Treasurer
Janice Lieberman – Secretary
Elizabeth Welch Lykins
Steven Norton – Executive Director
Michigan Parents for Schools is a non-profit organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Michigan. MIPFS is a public-interest advocacy group applying for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.
For more information: http://www.mipfs.org/