Support for Public Education

By on February 21st, 2020

Can there truly be a shared vision and common agenda between the K-12 education community, business, labor, philanthropy, and civic leaders that helps propel our system of public education boldly into the future?

There are signs in the air that an alliance between these groups that have historically been at odds may have laid down their swords long enough to concentrate on where they have agreement that can enhance teaching and learning— an extremely good sign.

Michigan educators are deserving of a statewide collaboration that has their and our children’s backs. Educators in Michigan today are feeling unappreciated and, in many cases, under siege. They clearly feel the support of Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

The Governor, a friend and demonstrated supporter of quality public education, has unveiled her new budget containing the largest funding increase for classrooms in nearly 20 years.


Launch Michigan ( is an unprecedented partnership of business, education, labor, philanthropy, and civic leaders, as well as parents, all of whom care deeply about education and our state’s collective future.  Launch Michigan is the relatively new-coalition that has been busy working on an agenda across the political spectrum – one that all might rally behind and support. Their goal is to boost education excellence for every student, every school, and our state.

According to their website, these are the things Michigan parents want for their children and we all want for our state: 

  • A strong, diverse, and growing economy.
  • Plentiful and rewarding jobs.
  • A vibrant, thriving place to put down roots.
  • Communities abundant with opportunities and thoughtful, engaged people.
  • Income and lifestyle that exceeds our own.

They continue, “Report after report, however, demonstrates that our kids are not prepared to build the lives and communities we envision. While our economy increasingly demands more advanced skills and knowledge, education has not kept pace. The system that served our students well fifty years ago is no longer preparing all of them to be the critical, versatile, and creative thinkers we need to sustain robust communities, fuel a vigorous economy, and live meaningful and rewarding lives. Put simply, it is getting harder and harder to achieve the American dream of having our children do better in life than we did.”

Launch Michigan offers a full set of thoughtful and aligned recommendations that have the great potential to truly move the educational needle for our children and our state. You can find the full list of the recommendations here:

Much of the work of Launch Michigan is built on the solid efforts by educators involved in the School Finance Research Collaborative. These educators created roadmap for all Michigan students to achieve and succeed. You can read about their foundational and on-going work here.

Tonya Allen

Launch Michigan has pulled together many of the right people to both set and implement a shared vision and common educational agenda including Steering Committee Co-chairs:  Tonya Allen, Skillman Foundation, Paula Herbart, Michigan Education Association, Doug Rothwell, Business Leaders for Michigan.

And these Steering Committee Members: Amber Arellano, The Education Trust Midwest, Rick Baker, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce,  Sandy Baruah, Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Tim Daman, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, Darienne Driver Hudson, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Rob Fowler, Small Business Association of Michigan,  David Hecker, American Federation of Teachers—Michigan, Ron Koehler, The School Finance Research Collaborative, Dan Quisenberry, Michigan Association of Public School Academies, Michael Rice, Michigan Department of Education, Julie Ridenour, Steelcase Foundation, Joe Scantlebury, Council of Michigan Foundations, Kevin Stotts, Talent 2025, Ray Telman, Middle Cities Education Association, Chris Wigent, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators,  and Don Wotruba, Michigan Association.

We need these leaders from all corners of our great state and from the various political persuasions and ideologies to help get us out of the educational pothole that is holding back our children and state. 

Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) 

(, under the leadership of Doug Rothwell, a co-chair of Launch Michigan, has decided to weigh into education reform in a big way and issued both its review of best practices in K–12 education – a set of principles that can lead to better student performance with the goal of making Michigan one of the nation’s top 10 states for student learning and talent development.  

BLM leaders says their report, Business Leaders insights: Leading Practices in K-12 Education that Can Improve Student Outcomes in Michigan is aimed at prompting an important public dialogue that leads to effective fixes for the state’s poor student outcomes.

As pointed out by Koby Levin, with Chalkbeat Detroit, (, Launch Michigan’s first set of recommendations is that the Legislature immediately allocate extra funding to schools with a higher percentage of poor students. It’s the first step in what the group says will be a comprehensive plan to reshape how Michigan pays for education. These recommendations are solid, backed by the governor and should be followed my Michigan’s legislators.

Amber Arellano

Amber Arellano, Executive Director of the Education Trust-Midwest, fierce advocated for the high academic achievement of all students – particularly those of color and living in poverty and has advocated for state leaders to improve key research-based levers to lift Michigan’s public education system and its student outcomes. She recommends “investing more to support educators and improve evidence-based strategies that might dramatically boost third-grading reading levels.” They are pushing key principles for transforming the state’s system of funding schools into one that puts the needs of the student first.

Ms. Arellano points it in this compelling op-ed in The Detroit News, “Improving Michigan public education will not be easy. Yet, as leading states demonstrate, it is possible with strong leadership and commitment to not only best practices but also greater investment that helps ensure all children and communities have access to strong public schools.”

It is imperative that we get everyone on board to improve the educational outcomes for more and more of our students. With technology, artificial intelligence, automation, and globalization coming at warp speed, jobs can and are moving effortlessly across the globe.

Key educators, teachers, principals, and superintendents must be invited to the table, every step of the way. Smart leaders don’t lay out a change strategy without engaging frontline workers and we won’t get buy-in from educators if a plan is developed without their input.

The individual, family, city, region, state and nation that invests in education and workforce preparedness will soar as the 21st century unfolds; those that don’t will sink. A child without a decent education today is an adult without much of a future tomorrow. Unless we are serious about changing the trajectory of educational achievement in Michigan, we will sink into an economic backwater. 

I have watched the incubation of Launch Michigan and I am impressed with the coalition formed, the work they have done to-date, and the promise their actions portend. 

As Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”  Today, we need all the help we can muster to assure that we prepare today’s students for their future and not our past.

We owe it to our children to come together— and most importantly, produce results.  

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

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Ron J Stefanski
Ron J Stefanski

This is a well timed discussion. At no time in recent years has it been more important to invest in our teachers and kids in K12. An uninformed pro-charter education seems intent on breaking the system and dismantling our public education system. Watkins shares some well informed perspectives that need to govern our way forward. Investing in our kid to prepare them for the future is crucial.


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