A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials
Lansing State Journal. February 14, 2019
Make campaign finance violations sting
A group that actively campaigned for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has gotten its hand slapped and must now pay a fine for its clear violations of the Michigan Campaign Finance Act. That law exists for a reason, and the state must do more to ensure it’s getting enforced.
Whitmer began her term by issuing an executive directive affirming part of the campaign finance actthat keeps public employees form using state funds or state time for campaigning. That’s a start, but it shouldn’t divert attention from the issues that arose during her own campaign.
Build a Better Michigan, the group that’s faced sanctions, spent more than $2.4 million in 2018 and ran pro-Whitmer television ads which it argued was a form of “issue advocacy” despite mentioning in the ads that Whitmer was a candidate for governor.
Under Michigan law, there should have been no coordination between Whitmer’s campaign and Build a Better Michigan. Yet the commercials feature the governor speaking directly into the camera with Hollywood quality production.
Many called foul, including former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who launched an investigation into the campaign, after complaints were lodged by the Michigan GOP and Michigan Freedom Fund. New Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson followed through with the investigation.
The strong appearance of coordination between the group and the campaign, in addition to the other findings of wrongdoing, mandated some sort of penalty.
Benson got the group to agree to pay a settlement of $37,500, less than 2 percent of what they spent during the campaign.
But the precedent for such violations in the state of Michigan is that the violating organization must pay the state 100 percent of the amount of money they spent during the campaign.
It’s noteworthy that Build a Better Michigan was led by Mark Burton during the campaign. He is now Whitmer’s chief strategist.
Benson, who has already sided with Democrats on a recent redistricting deal, continues to show her partisan colors by stating that Build a Better Michigan did illegally spend over $2 million during the midterm election. Yet she then gave the group what Tony Daunt, executive director of the Michigan Freedom Fund, calls a “feather tickle on the wrist.”
“This conciliation agreement is incredibly partisan and corrupt,” Daunt says. “This isn’t just some random group that was trying to help Whitmer become governor. It was headed by her longtime ally who is now paid by taxpayers.”
This is not the precedent Benson should set for future elections. If the cost to give a candidate an edge — even if it’s illegal — in an election is small, organizations will just include it in their expenditure plan. So long as their party wins, they can find ways to avoid penalties.
In the future, fines must be more than slaps on the wrist for campaign finance violators.
There should also be greater expediency in investigations so that fines can be made during the race.
That way, candidates remain more accountable for their actions — and the actions of their supporters.
Lansing State Journal. February 13, 2019
Only a bipartisan solution can solve Michigan’s ongoing education crisis
It’s 2019, and over 50 percent of Michigan third-graders can’t read at grade level.
The state no doubt is experiencing a ‘crisis in education and skills’ - as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in Tuesday night’s State of the State address.
But it’s not a new problem.
Michigan third-graders rank in the bottom 10 states in the nation for literacy. And before people start pointing fingers at the inner city or public schools, this is a problem for schools across the state.
To address the problem will likely require overhauling the system, something Republican and Democratic leaders seem to agree on in principle. Yet they disagree on the way to move forward.
The big question: How will the state pay for whatever programs it hopes to implement?
The most likely options: Reallocate money from other parts of the state budget or raise taxes.
What can Gov. Whitmer and this Legislature do that decades of Michigan leaders have failed to do?
That remains to be seen.
Why a new bipartisan solution is essential
Whitmer’s call for a new bipartisan solution is an essential component.
“There is no such thing as Republican or Democratic school kids,” she said Tuesday. “This is not happening because Michigan kids are less talented. It’s not happening because our kids are less motivated. It’s not happening because our educators are less dedicated. It is happening because generations of leadership have failed them.”
We’ve been down this road before.
In 2005, a 41-member bipartisan group dubbed the Cherry Commission, led by former Lt. Gov. John Cherry, released a plan to double the share of Michigan adults with post-secondary education certificates or degrees over the ensuing 10 years.
But there was no consideration of how to finance the recommendations in the report. There has been progress - such as toughening high school graduation requirements - but, during the 2008 recession and Michigan’s painfully slow recovery, plans largely languished.
Now that Whitmer is renewing the call to reach similar goals, there must be a will to invest and pay for these initiatives.
Our kids can’t afford to wait for our elected officials to figure it out. Neither can businesses that rely on an educated workforce to be successful.
About 44 percent of Michigan’s workforce have completed post-secondary education - whether a four-year degree, community college or skilled trades certification - but it’s clearly not enough.
Since 2011, nearly all new jobs require education beyond a high school diploma, according to a 2018 report by the Michigan Higher Education Attainment Roundtable.
In Tuesday’s speech, Whitmer called for 60 percent of Michigan’s workforce to have completed post-secondary education by 2030 - an aggressive goal that will take bipartisan support to achieve.
But that’s what Michigan needs.
“Michigan’s greatest strength is — and always has been — our people,” Whitmer said Tuesday.
Hopefully, Michigan residents have elected the right people to finally solve the education crisis.
Grand Haven Tribune. February 12, 2019
Snow day waiver means cheating students
Snow days are great when you’re a kid. It’s an unexpected day off to go out and romp in the snow or stay in and watch hours of mindless television. It’s an extra day to do your homework or study for a big test.
For teachers, a snow day is probably a welcome break.
But the mountain of snow and ice days accumulating over the past couple of weeks is bordering on ridiculousness (a tip of the hat to a mindless MTV show).
Michigan requires its schools to have a minimum of 180 instructional days, over 1,098 total hours, each school year. Out of that total, school districts are allowed to cancel up to six days each year due to conditions beyond their control. That would include snowstorms, icy roads, power outages — which were all in play the past couple of weeks — and health concerns.
We applaud the local school district superintendents for putting students and their staff members’ safety first by keeping the doors closed when it is downright dangerous to be on the road (in the case of the recent ice events) and too darn cold to be outside waiting for a bus (as with the earlier subzero wind chills).
However, we cringe at the talk about requesting waivers for an extra three snow days so they don’t have to extend the school year to meet the 180-day requirement.
What does that teach kids? Rules are made for breaking?
A requested waiver is not automatic. School officials have to show that they are unable to reschedule the missed days later in the school year.
But it does happen, and frequently. In fact, about 200 of Michigan’s school districts were granted additional “snow” days after making requests last school year, the Lansing State Journal recently reported. Only 10 districts did not get extra days after requesting them, according to the Michigan Department of Education.
Could the schools make up the days by canceling spring break? A lot of families have already planned and put money down on getaways for that time. That’s just too short of a notice.
But extending the school year by a few days or even a week in June should be the answer. That’s already in the common conversation every winter when a string of snow days occur, so it should come as no surprise when it happens. Especially this year.
We expect our kids to be properly educated. That requires time spent in school. And the state has long calculated that as being half of the days in a calendar year. To otherwise cheat their education is not the answer.