MichMash: Read-or-Flunk provision facing expulsion from Michigan’s third grade reading law

Cheyna Roth speaks with Bridge Michigan’s Isabel Lohman about Democrats rewriting a 2016 law, the state’s surplus budget and the nursing shortage.

young Black boy writing in a classroom

In this episode:

  • Why Michigan Democrats are pushing to repeal a 2016 law that holds back third grade students who fail to meet reading standards.
  • How Michigan’s $9.2 billion dollar surplus will affect education spending in 2023.
  • Will a partnership between Alpena Community College and Saginaw Valley State University be the first step to solving Michigan’s nursing shortage?

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In this week’s episode of MichMash, Cheyna Roth speaks with Isabel Lohman of Bridge Michigan about Michigan Democrats’ new priority to rewrite a 2016 law that holds back third grade students who fail to meet the minimum reading standard.

Along with this requirement, the bill provides supplemental support for students struggling with reading, and does allow parents to opt out of holding their child back, provided the parent meet with their child’s teacher. Democrats are primarily interested in removing the third grade reading requirement, which they feel is unnecessarily punitive against the students and teachers.

“[Democrats] say students and teachers deserve supports to make sure that students are able to read on grade level, but they don’t think holding students back is the solution,” says Lohman. “On the Republican side, some Republicans are saying they also don’t think holding students back is the solution, yet they’re saying schools need to be held accountable to make sure that students are at grade level.”

Lohman reports that while 5,700 third grade students did not meet the reading standard to advance, only 545 students were held back since the law first took effect in 2021. The majority of the students who were held back came from low-income households, and Black students were more likely to be held back than their white peers.

“That’s one of the biggest reasons why students weren’t held back, because you can get a parent exemption,” says Lohman. “So Democrats have some concerns saying that it’s possible that economically disadvantaged peers or other students, their parents didn’t realize that they could talk to the schools to get their student to move on to fourth grade.”

The bill was recently passed out of the senate education committee, and if the Michigan senate votes favorably, the bill will move to the house, which is already gathering testimony regarding how this law works and who has been affected.

Surplus budget

Michigan Democrats will also determine how to best spend a $9.2 billion state surplus, the result of strong state revenue streams and federal pandemic relief money. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is set to propose her education budget for the year, which will include a spending plan for some of these funds. Whitmer has specifically mentioned expanding tutoring services and preschool services as top priorities. Education groups have their own proposals as well.

“Education groups tend to agree that students from low-income backgrounds and other different characteristics take more money to educate,” says Lohman. “There seems to be some agreement on that, and the research bears that out. That being said, how you actually spend the money differs on the proposals.”

Several education groups have proposed programs utilizing those funds, and Michigan Republicans have reintroduced a bill that would provide families up to $1,500 for tutoring and education expenses.

$56 million of state money has also been made available in the form of grants to community colleges that partner with four-year universities to expand their nursing programs and address the nation’s healthcare worker shortage. Alpena Community College and Saginaw Valley State University have created the first partnership of this kind.

“You can become a nurse after getting an associate’s degree, but a lot of nursing employers want their nurses to have four-year degrees, they say it improves patient outcomes,” says Lohman.

“Essentially, under this partnership, someone can go to Alpena Community College, get their associate’s degree in nursing and then continue their education still in Alpena while getting their four-year degree. They can also be working during that time because, again, they can become a registered nurse after getting that associate’s degree.”

Lohman expects other community colleges to follow suit, as more community colleges apply for a piece of the available $56 million.

“The idea is that you can get a nursing degree hopefully closer to home, potentially cheaper, and that ultimately, your patients will have better outcomes.”

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