News Story

Whitmer touts education policy she rejected last year

Student catch-up initiative similar to vetoed 2021 Republican plan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appears to have changed her mind about a plan for mitigating COVID-related learning loss in K-12 students, but with a significant restriction.

Whitmer had vetoed, in July 2021, a bill produced by legislative Republicans to channel $155 million of the state’s $6 billion share of federal COVID-19 relief dollars into reading scholarships. The funds would have helped elementary students who are behind due to school shutdowns during the pandemic.

The governor tweeted on Sept. 8, however, “Our kids always come first. To help get them back on track, I proposed offering tutors for all 1.4 million Michigan students. Let’s get it done.” Whitmer was referring to her own student recovery proposal, called the MI Kids Back on Track tutoring plan, released May 23.

Whitmer’s recovery proposal is similar to the Republican plan she vetoed, which would have provided parents $1,000 grants for elementary-age students with low reading test scores. Parents would have had the autonomy to choose which tutoring services were best for their students. They could have used the money for private tutoring, after-school programs, books, or instructional materials.

Whitmer did not explain her veto, and legislative Democrats did not join in an effort override it. Since then, evidence has grown that the COVID lockdowns hurt student performance. The National Assessment of Education Progress reported recently that Michigan went backward in math and reading scores.

Republicans reintroduced their proposal in February, this time with a plan to give $1,500 grants to students. But House Bill 5859 went down to defeat in a June vote in the Michigan House, with all Democrats and five Republicans voting against it.

The governor, who faces a reelection vote in November, is now promoting her own plan to get students on track. The major difference between her plan and the Republican bill she vetoed is that her $280 million proposal does not give parents the latitude to choose what is best for their children.

The governor’s proposal puts those same schools that shut down during COVID-19 — many of which showed consistently low scores and poor academic outcomes even before the governor’s lockdown orders — in charge of a student’s recovery. The proposal calls for tutoring for all subjects and grades. An announcement about it from the Michigan Department of Education links to It notes that tutoring would be available during and after the school day.

Whitmer did not respond to a request for comment.

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.