‘More government does not fix bad government’: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expands Department of Education in restructure questioned by critics

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to expand the state’s Department of Education into a new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential…

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order to expand the state’s Department of Education into a new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP).

“For too long, we have thought of education as K-12, but know that’s not good enough,” said Whitmer’s press statement on Tuesday. “I’m establishing MiLEAP today because we need to get every kid started early, in pre-K, so they succeed in kindergarten, have paths after graduation to get higher education tuition-free, and forge strong partnerships with our employers.”

However, education policy experts have questioned if restructuring the department will make Michigan’s programs any more successful.

For instance, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP) is a state-funded preschool program that hasn’t been able to prove its worth.

“[GSRP] hasn’t been hugely successful in recruiting the families that are eligible,” Molly Macek, director of education policy for the Mackinac Center of Public Policy, told The Lion.

“We have more taxpayer money going towards funding the expansion of Great Start Readiness Program and yet the enrollment just isn’t there,” Macek explained. 

The Mackinac Center is a Michigan-based research and educational think tank.  

Although Whitmer wants a greater emphasis on pre-K programs, many parents choose to homeschool preschoolers or simply wait to start their formal education.  

Macek also cast doubt on Michigan Reconnect, a post-secondary program.  

“There is very little data that’s being collected by the state to demonstrate how successful it’s actually being,” Macek told The Lion. “We really need our school officials at the Department of Education to be focusing on those [K-12] grade levels and what’s happening in the classroom to make sure that our students are learning what they need to, that they are prepared to go on to college or to enter the workforce.” 

Other top Michigan officials expressed frustration, feeling Whitmer isn’t solving problems – just shuffling them around.  

“Connecting students throughout their education makes sense in theory, but without fixing our current education system, it won’t do much to actually help our next generation,” said House Minority Leader Matt Hall, R-Richland Township. “Expanding the system without fixing it first is an empty promise and not a solution.”  

“More government does not fix bad government,” agreed Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt, R-Porter Township. “I believe the people of Michigan would prefer our governor focus more on ensuring children can read and less on scaling back education accountability standards and creating more government bureaucracy.” 

Michigan’s reading scores worsened between 2019 and 2022 and its 4th grade reading test scores are among the worst in the nation. And its average math proficiency is a dismal 35%, according to Public School Review. 

Even State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice made a very lukewarm statement regarding the change.  

“I respect the governor’s constitutional authority to restructure state government,” said his press statement. “The Michigan Department of Education will work with the governor’s office, the state legislature, and the several other agencies involved in Executive Order 2023-6 to provide for as smooth a transition as possible.” 

However, many of Whitmer’s past changes to public education have been counterproductive, critics say, including defunding online charter schools, scrapping the traditional A-F grading system, and funding free lunches for middle and upper-class students. 

“The current system hasn’t worked all that well … to improve K-12 outcomes,” concluded Macek. “By shuffling them around, I don’t see how that is going to improve outcomes.”