Whitmer calls for using the public school system to fix the learning loss it caused

The MEA endorses governor’s plan to use a broken system to recover students from academic, mental health losses

If your financial advisor continuously caused you to lose money, year after year, would you pay more money to that person in hopes of recovering your losses?

This is akin to the strategy Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is to help students who were left behind academically when their school districts closed in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, supports Whitmer’s “MI Kids Back on Track” plan, which would increase spending on school-provided tutoring and other activities.

In a post on the MEA’s website, Herbart blames everything except the public school system for student academic loss and mental health problems since the pandemic. The solution to academic recovery, she argues, is using the same system that failed students — and only that system.

Relying only on the system that caused academic and mental health setbacks is not looking out for the best interest of children.

Herbart says the pandemic caused between six to 12 months of learning loss. But it was not the pandemic that caused learning loss; it was school districts’ failure to return to in-person learning that caused learning loss. Teachers in the Detroit Public Schools Community District went as far as to threaten an illegal strike over returning to in-person schooling.

Whitmer did not recommend that Michigan schools return to in-person instruction until March 2021, an entire year after schools closed down on her order. When Whitmer made her recommendation, only 23% of Michigan schools had fully returned to in-person learning.

Between the 2018-19 academic year and the 2020-21 year, English proficiency declined by 32%, and math proficiency slipped by 36% in the public school system.

Though public school districts shuttered their doors during the pandemic, Catholic schools remained open, for the most part. They saw no change in reading or math scores compared to pre-pandemic outcomes.

Herbart writes: “The stakes are high and time is of the essence: The further our students fall behind, the less chance they’ll have at long-term academic achievement.”

Yet again, her solution is to fund the same educational institution that had a poor record even before the pandemic.

Detroit is repeatedly one of the worst-performing school districts in the nation. The National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the nation’s report card, revealed the district to be the country’s word urban district in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. It has not fared much better since.

Herbart says failing school districts should receive more money to “expand existing school-based tutoring services” and hire more academic recovery specialists.

“In addition, districts could hire outside tutors to come into schools and work collaboratively school staff to help students,” Herbart writes.

She says that teachers know their students and what it will take to catch them up. If this is the case, why haven’t teachers brought students up to where they should be?

Parents know their children best. The GOP-controlled Legislature of the last term agreed and proposed a plan in 2021 to give parents vouchers for academic interventions, including tutoring. Whitmer and the MEA denounced the solution. Whitmer vetoed the bill.

Herbart called the idea a “convoluted voucher system” that would use “taxpayer dollars to benefit private, for-profit tutoring companies, and with little-to-no oversight.”

Parents had to adjust their work schedules, often with economic losses, to be home with children who were forced to online instruction. They have had to give time and money to remedy the mental health fallout of their children being alienated from friends and school activities.

Parents need something new. Students need something new. It’s time give parents the opportunity to fix what the public school system has not fixed.

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.