Could Michigan schools teach kids to read before trying to fix society?

Michigan’s education complex fails in its mandate, then embraces diversity and equity initiatives

Michigan’s K-12 public school system devotes large sums of money, time, and effort to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, in the belief that education will eradicate racism. Why doesn’t it show more energy to make sure that kids can read?

The Michigan State Board of Education, whose members call themselves the leaders and general supervisors of education, issued a June 2020 resolution to lead and support schools “in their efforts to help eradicate racism.”

The board committed itself to “review current and proposed state budgets, standards, policies, legislation, and policy guidance to ensure that they promote equity and aggressively discourage and disrupt practices that allow racial inequities to persist.”

“The Michigan Department of Education believes all children and school staff deserve the opportunity to reach their goals and racism should not impede this opportunity,” Martin Ackley, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, told Michigan Capital Confidential via email. “We believe in education as a means to improving lifelong opportunities for individuals and our greater and most civil society. We encourage local school boards to work with their staff to identify ways to improve opportunities, access, and a sense of belonging for all their students.”

Public schools in the United States have spent $21 million on DEI programs since George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, according to January 2022 research conducted by Newsweek, with public funds being spent on curricula as well as books and training for both students and teachers. Michigan schools, including those in Okemos, Grand Ledge and Birmingham, have taken up DEI activities.

Yet the Democrats in the Michigan Legislature just eliminated a legal requirement that schools make sure third grade students are proficient readers before going on to fourth grade.

Too many students are still not proficient in reading, despite increased taxpayer support for public schools. The number of third-grade students who should have been held back in 2021-22 was up 20% over the previous year. Michigan is spending $19 billion from its 2022-23 budget on public schools, a 12% increase from the previous budget. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to boost school spending by another 9% in the next budget.

The previous Legislature attempted to set aside money for parents for tutors to help compensate for learning loss students suffered as a result of COVID-19 shutdowns mandated by the governor. Whitmer vetoed that idea.

The governor instead approved money to be used at the same K-12 system that failed students in the first place. She later submitted her own tutoring plan — one that would benefit teachers unions – in the 2023-24 budget proposal.

If public schools can end racism when given enough money and time, they should also be able to teach third graders how to read. If they can’t do that, then we should at least have safeguards in place that give students another opportunity to get caught up.

Perhaps public schools should focus on educating our children to read and write, rather than trying to cure social ills.

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.