With mockery for the “iPod for every student” proposal still prevalent and the ongoing bickering about the appropriate level of education funding for education, good news right about now would be great. That news came Monday when Michigan’s schools were named among the nation’s best in preparing students for college. While this is a welcome respite from the negativity, these findings highlight the fact that our state has a wealth of qualified students who should go to college, but they’ll need more help from Lansing than they have had in the past.

Sarah Royce

Research conducted by the National Curriculum Survey cited Michigan behind only Kentucky and Indiana in curriculums that foster success in college. The findings credit Michigan’s new stricter standards for schools and a classroom focus on analytical thinking instead of memorization as the two driving forces behind Michigan’s success.

While Michigan is struggling to remain relevant in a changing economy, these findings are a hopeful sign that the state is making progress in a critical area. But state legislators are on the verge of letting the one thing that Michigan has going for it slip away by cutting off support to both higher education and K-12 education. This is nonsensical policy.

Unfortunately, only two days after the state was proclaimed amongst the best in preparing students for college came news that Michigan’s teachers’ salaries had slipped from being fifth highest in the country to eighth. This is a dangerous trend for the state. Teachers are at the root of Michigan’s success. Allowing their salaries to fall behind those of other states will discourage talented teachers from staying in the state.

With cuts on the agenda in our cash-strapped state, it should be a priority for state lawmakers to protect the endangered annual K-12 per-pupil allotment. When you’ve got a good thing going, common sense says that you don’t stop doing it. It is a matter of necessity that schools receive the funding necessary to make progress in meeting curriculum standards and preparing students for further education. Anything short of that is the type of unfunded and counterproductive mandate we would expect of the Bush Administration.

The same logic extends to higher education. Having students in the state who are well prepared for college means absolutely nothing if those students don’t move on to college. But in order to increase access to higher education, the state will have to sacrifice elsewhere. By continuing its commitment to state universities – both research universities and the others – lawmakers can help keep tuition down and increase the availability of scholarships, thereby making college more accessible to students.

With everything the state has been through lately it is reassuring to see that something is going right, but there are no guarantees that success will continue forever. In places like Detroit, schools continue to lag behind the average and only seem to be descending further into ruin. The budget cuts being debated in the state legislature are an discouraging sign for the future.

With its high ranking in preparing students for college, Michigan has gained a selling point it can use to bring jobs and growth to the state. It would be a shame if it were to lose it because of short-sighted budget cuts.

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