Snyder talks education in State of State address

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Governor Rick Snyder gives the 2015 State of the State address at the state Capitol in Lansing Tuesday. Buy this photo

By Emma Kinery, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 20, 2015

Staying true to his nickname, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, the “tough nerd,” emphasized education as one of several means to create opportunity in his State of the State address Tuesday.

Using a “river of opportunity” as a metaphor for improving education and job prospects in the state, among other issues, Snyder said he will shift the state’s focus from creating new programs to addressing problems.

“Quite often we’re addressing symptoms. We’re not addressing root causes. In some cases, we’re actually facilitating dependency on government,” Snyder said. “That’s not right.”

Snyder said his plan would focus on five principles: people, causes, increasing results without increasing cost, community and measuring outcomes.

Though several other governors who may be potential 2016 presidential candidates discussed national policies in their addresses, Snyder primarily emphasized Michigan-centric policies. Snyder has not discussed any potential 2016 candidacy despite speculation.

On education, Snyder introduced several key initiatives that, if passed, would impact Michigan students from preschool to higher education, including calling for legislative support for a statewide evaluation system for K-12 teachers and a commission to study third-grade reading scores.

He also announced he will ask the legislature to include an additional investment of $130 million for preschool programs in his upcoming budget.

“We need to raise the bar and standard on every educational institution,” he said.

Though Snyder did not mention the state’s four-year public institutions of higher education, he touched on several career education programs he’s promoted throughout his tenure, namely apprenticeships.

Last May, Snyder announced the Michigan Advanced Technician Training Program, an apprenticeship program.

This year, in a continuation of that effort, Snyder said he aims to make Michigan the number one state for skilled trades, an idea President Barack Obama echoed during his speech at the Michigan Assembly Plant earlier this month where he discussed plans to increase apprenticeships nationally.

Along with apprenticeships, Snyder also promoted alternative forms of getting credit for higher education, namely dual enrollment, a policy the governor has heavily promoted throughout his tenure in office.

During the address, Snyder emphasized what he characterized as the bipartisan nature of his education initiatives, highlighting the work of state Rep. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor) for his help passing education bills.

Snyder also signed this year the National Guard Tuition Assistance Act, a bill that would provide tuition assistance to members of the Michigan National Guard.

In an interview after the event, Zemke said while there have been some efforts on which Snyder and the Democratic caucus worked together, that wasn’t the case for every policy.

“There are certain policies that we’ve worked very well in a bipartisan fashion on, working to support our teachers and teacher effectiveness, administrator effectiveness,” he said. “But there’s also been a lot of negative policies that have been put forward under this administration.”

Another key point of the address was Snyder’s support for the bipartisan roads comprise passed during the lame-duck session last month. The plan has the potential to impact education funding as well, by moving funding for the state’s universities out of the School Aid Fund, which also supports K-12 schools and community colleges.

“No one in Michigan likes our roads and bridges,” Snyder said. “We got that work done, but our work isn’t done. Now we need to ask our citizens to support that effort in May on the ballot.”

He urged Michigan citizens to vote yes on the proposal for safety concerns, and said one out of nine bridges in Michigan is structurally deficient.

As part of his pitch to voters to vote yes in May, he paralleled the safety of roads to the better schools and local governments.

Overall, Snyder noted that the budget would be difficult to balance due to an unexpectedly high number of businesses cashing in tax credits from the past several years, which has resulted in an estimated $325 million deficit for the upcoming fiscal year.

However, he said he felt confident in “getting a budget done, five years in a row, on time, done well, and balanced.”

Snyder also very briefly stated the need for a continuing dialogue on the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. Earlier this year during the lame-duck session, the Republican Party state legislative caucus was split over two different proposed changes to the act, one that suggested the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity, and one that only suggested the inclusion of sexual orientation. The state legislature did not pass either proposed amendment to the law.

Though Snyder only touched on the topic, it did not go unnoticed by Democrats.

During a press conference after the speech, state Rep. Tim Greimel (D–Auburn Hills), House Democratic Leader, said while he welcomed Snyder’s interest in the continuation of the conversation, he didn’t think it went far enough.

“I would have liked a little more boldness from the governor,” he said. “I wish that he had gone before simply calling for a continuation of the discussion and had specifically asked for specific language in the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights act to protect both folks based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which has been a point of contention.”

Zemke said he also felt encouraged by the discussion of the ELCRA, but wasn’t sure anything would come from it.