Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

What does an “equitable education system” even mean?  

What does an “equitable education system” even mean?  

At The Skillman Foundation, we deeply believe that the field of EDUCATION is in a moment of incredible possibility.   

Yes, we have been, and continue to be, in immensely challenging times—times that will have consequential effects on students and educators for years to come. We are in a time marked by societal divides, racial inequities coupled with backlash over even naming racial inequities.   

We are in the last era of ARP dollars flooding our hometowns and being used to staff needed positions, to fix needed infrastructure, to patch ever-widening holes. The tide is ebbing – the money slowly disappearing – the fixes temporary and fragile.  

And yes, in education, we are coping with the academic and emotional effects of the pandemic, years of low teacher morale and unfathomable working conditions, bitter cultural conflicts set in the arena of school board meetings.  

But the starkness of the moment offers a clear view that status quo is a rapid slide backwards.    

Today, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan and Altarum released a report, ”Michigan’s Path to a Prosperous Future,” which points out that Michigan has slumped to the bottom third of national rankings on key indicators, including 36th in K-12 educational outcomes, 34th in household income, and 39th in health outcomes—and that racial and ethnic disparities remain glaringly wide. It reads: “With Michigan’s population growth projected to occur among people of color, the inability to prepare them for or provide access to postsecondary educational opportunities creates a vicious cycle that locks these same students out of career pathways.”

The most pressing thing we can do is to NOT patch, NOT think small, NOT believe the ARP relief money will transform the education system into one of innovation, care, cultural relevancy, and import.  

Are we up to the challenge?  

Michigan has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real progress toward a system of education that truly serves all students, providing the kinds of teaching and learning that enrich lives, spur innovations, and reflect a deep and abiding commitment to equity.   

When we say we want an “equitable education system,” this means different things to people. Knowing this, The Skillman Foundation is envisioning this future with the brilliance of Detroiters—those working every day in schools, in out-of-school youth programs, parents and neighbors, and especially young people (our fiercest visionaries).  

A sketch of what equitable education looks like: 

Picture a deeply humane system of education that keenly support the development of all young people.  

Picture profound investments in teachers, allowing them to be compensated for their time inside and outside the classroom, wrapping them in innovative professional development so they are on top of the latest technology and ideas needed for the workforce of the future. 
Picture spaces in schools and outside of school in community where young people can gather, connect, study, create, and compete on teams.  

Would Michigan still be ranked 38th out of 50 states in education if this is what the system looked like?  

The good news is that public sentiment indicates Michiganders are ready for this. According to the most recent poll conducted by Business Leaders of Michigan, the largest and most powerful business association in the state, K-12 is a top priority across the entire state of Michigan. Survey participants were read 10 ways that surplus revenues could be allocated and were asked which one was most important for them. The number one answer was K-12 funding (23.6%). Due in part to its polling and in part to its need to ensure a workforce in the future, BLM’s 5-year strategic plan includes bold goals around education AND equity, aiming to become a top 10 state in education for all students.   

Also, according to the Detroit Metro Area Community Study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, 77% of Detroit residents say that quality K-12 Education should be THE top priority area for policymakers.  

And they know this. Policymakers on all sides of the aisle know their constituents across Michigan are watching and waiting for them to deliver on this. The governor has publicly named that education is a top priority for her second term and there are policymakers on all sides of the aisle who have expressed interest and understand the need for more to be done. Between studies on the lack of investment and the concerns about student performance, there are many different actors advocating for big changes. Policy organization like Launch Michigan, Michigan Education Justice Coalition, and Education Trust-Midwest‘s Michigan Partnership for Equity and Opportunity are all calling for increased equity investments in education. (The Skillman Foundation is a funder of the aforementioned organizations.)  

And lucky for us, we have Gen Z.   

According to MLive, “In Michigan, 36.5% of voting-eligible residents aged 18-29 cast ballots in the November 2022 election, beating the other 38 states for which data was available. The national youth average participation rate was 23%. Michigan also was one of four states where young voter turnout was higher in 2022 than the previous midterm election, 2018. The state gained 3.8 percentage points, surpassed only by New York’s 4.3-point gain.” 

Meaning, we have the most engaged and optimistic generation in our history ready to think and create with us, teachers with big ideas on this, and parents who have asked for this for time in memoriam.   

The Skillman Foundation’s new strategic framework is poised to make the most of this moment in Michigan. Our focus on Ground Builders and Policy Change puts into motion the “inside-outside” game that is needed to create bold and massive change. You put the right people in the room together, design equitable policies, and pounce when the policy window of opportunity whooshes open.   

Now is the time. Time to disrupt old ways of barely eking by and begin building systems that create thriving communities for generations to come. 

Angelique Power

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

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