Whitmer’s tutoring plan is too little, too late to fix learning loss
Michigan students might have coped better with learning loss if governor had not vetoed a similar GOP plan in 2021
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal includes funding for the “MI Kids Back on Track” program to deal with the unprecedented learning loss students suffered when schools were closed during the pandemic.
The plan touts personalized tutoring for every K-12 student in Michigan as the panacea for recovering from the lost classroom time. Yet over the past two years Whitmer rejected similar programs that could have mitigated learning losses sooner.
The costs of this lost time are devastating for kids. In the time it took the governor to strike down multiple iterations of promising legislation, students lost out on valuable learning opportunities and fell even further behind.
Fourth-grade reading scores on the NAEP assessment, also called the nation’s report card, dropped more than at any other time in the past three decades. And average fourth-grade math scores dropped by record levels as well.
The M-STEP, Michigan’s annual standardized assessment, produced similar results. The reading proficiency rate for third graders dropped from 45.1% to 41.6% between 2019 and 2022.
But these recent trends should not necessarily be a surprise.
Prior to the prolonged school closures during the pandemic, early literacy scores relative to other states were fairly stagnant. The state’s eighth graders have scored significantly lower on math compared to the national average since 2007. The state’s eighth-grade reading scores have declined since 2019 and shown little to no growth since 2002.
The learning disruptions imposed during the pandemic only exacerbated these concerning trends.
Not surprisingly, policymakers predicted the added toll the learning disruptions would take and acted accordingly. Unprecedented COVID relief dollars poured into districts to support immediate action.
But new legislation that sought to direct this funding to learning recovery programs was repeatedly vetoed by the governor.
Whitmer vetoed $10 million in reimbursements for enrolling kids in summer enrichment programs to combat COVID learning losses in 2021. She then vetoed $155 million for scholarships to cover the cost of tutoring, literacy coaches and professional development to support struggling readers. She also vetoed $500 million for Student Opportunity Scholarships for students to use for academic supports, including tutoring. Just last year, she rejected legislation that would have provided tutoring grants of up to $1,500 to parents to tackle learning losses.
The governor is now proposing $300 million for the MI Kids Back on Track program that purports to provide tutoring for all K-12 students – nearly three years after she forced the schools to close due to COVID-19. She is pushing lawmakers to fund this program by the spring.
But what will the $300 million program actually do to help kids?
The bulk of the funds will cover volunteer recruitment efforts and background checks.
Schools cannot require their teachers to provide afterschool tutoring because of their union contracts. So, they must find volunteers to do so. Finding enough volunteers seems doubtful, especially considering the program’s lofty goal of providing one-on-one tutoring for each of the state’s 1.4 million students.
The program’s $300 million budget also warrants greater scrutiny given the governor’s other spending priorities:
- $150 million for electric buses.
- $245 million to study and encourage school district consolidation.
- $800 million for school infrastructure.
- $500 million for a reserve fund for the school pension program.
- $900 million for a rainy-day fund.
In light of all this spending, getting kids back on track seems only a middling priority for the governor.
The urgency surrounding the governor’s tutoring proposal is overdue given Michigan’s historical standardized test performance and predictable decline during the COVID-19 disruptions. The learning support programs proposed and rejected since the pandemic’s onset could have softened the impact on student outcomes.
Unfortunately, the latest proposal is unlikely to make up for the lost classroom time or get kids back on track.
Molly Macek is director of the Mackinac Center’s Education Policy Institute. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.