Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

Upgrade Public Education from PreK to 14 for all of Michigan’s Children

This opinion piece was originally published by the Detroit Free Press.

Recently, I met a sixteen-year-old junior named Layla. She was a combination of slightly shy and remarkably self-possessed. She talked about how college had always been a dream and a source of worry due to the high cost to her family. As we walked through the bright, welcoming halls of the Livonia Career Technical Center, a hands-on facility where high schoolers learn technical skills, it was clear Layla is not alone, and it was also clear we desperately need young voices like Layla’s at the policy table.

Every child in Michigan, regardless of income, should be guaranteed an excellent education that sets them up for success.

Young people need more time in school, and more support through every step of the way to ensure they are ready to take on the world. An excellent and equitable education system starts early and goes until every single student is future ready – extending public education two years past high school to help ensure success.

In her State of the State address, Governor Whitmer proposed the “Michigan Guarantee,” which would deliver free pre-K to every four-year-old and tuition-free community college for every high school graduate. If delivered on, the Michigan Guarantee would make our state the first in the nation to offer free, universal access to both pre-K and community college. It would change Michigan’s trajectory, elevating educational outcomes, family incomes, and our economic future.

The data is clear. Children who attend pre-K have better reading and math scores, are more likely to graduate high school, go on to college, and earn more money. Providing pre-K at no cost would save parents an average of $10,000 a year.

This Michigan Guarantee needs to extend to what happens in the K-12 years as well. As a state we must ensure students are ready to graduate with the future-ready skills and competencies to thrive in work and life. The point isn’t just more school time, it is schools customized to every student’s specified needs, ready to double down on learning. It’s about ensuring that students are taught critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, citizenship, communication, and connectivity – so they graduate ready to easily adapt to whatever our fast-changing future holds.

The other bookend of a child’s academic journey—postsecondary education—is as important as the early foundational years. Not every student will go on to seek a four-year degree due to family obligations, affordability, interest, and time. By making community college tuition-free for every Michigan high school graduate, we can help young adults get the skills and training they need to land good-paying, in-demand jobs they love in industries critical to the state’s future.

The data is clear here too. A year after graduating, Michiganders with an associate’s degree or skills certificate from a community college earn $23,000 a year more than high school graduates. Projections show that a majority of jobs in Michigan’s future, in the knowledge economy and beyond, will require education beyond high school. As Michigan competes against other states, a qualified workforce will be crucial to economic growth.

Michigan has the momentum. We cannot lose it. In recent years, the state legislature has taken steps to expand opportunity, break down barriers to success, and lower costs for students and families.

However, it is time for a big leap forward. We have a generational opportunity to set our children and our children’s children up for success. As state lawmakers are debating where our dollars are directed next year, education should top the list.

When Layla took the podium to ask those who are at the policy tables to deliver on the Michigan Guarantee she implored us, for every young person across Michigan, to seize this opportunity with everything we’ve got.

Let’s make Michigan the first state to guarantee a public education for all, for free, and from the early years through to the career-readying years of our children’s lives.

Angelique Power

Angelique Power is the president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation.

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