Gov. Jennifer Granholm emphasized education’s vital role in strengthening Michigan’s economy in her State of the State address last night.

Jessica Boullion
Gov. Jennifer Granholm gives the State of the State address at the state capitol building in Lansing last night. (AP PHOTO)

Granholm said improving education is key to the state’s chances of recovery from its current economic doldrums.

“Economists and experts across the country agree that education is the single most effective strategy for stoking a states economic growth,” she said. “That means we all must create a culture of learning that is unprecedented in Michigan’s history.”

But despite the importance Granholm placed on education in the speech, she did not outline any increases in education spending this year.

Rather, the governor pledged to not “slash school funding in the middle of the year.”

In 2005, the state cut education funding in the middle of the fiscal year to deal with an unexpectedly large budget deficit. To make up for the cuts, the University had to increase tuition by 12.3 percent for in-state students and 6 percent for out-of-state students.

University spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham said yesterday she wasn’t sure whether tuition increases will be necessary this year.

Administrators will have a clearer picture of the University’s financial outlook when Granholm releases her 2008 budget on Thursday.

Granholm also pledged to increase education funding next year if universities pledged to keep tuition affordable.

In past State of the State addresses, Granholm asked universities to keep tuition in check. From 2004 to 2006, the state cut funding to the University by over $77 million. These cuts forced the University to dramatically cut spending and increase tuition.

Cunningham praised Granholm for placing such a high value on education.

“The governor has issued a clarion call to reshape how Michigan does business,” Cunningham said. “Central to that is the investment in education. We look forward to working with her and the legislature in the months ahead.”

The governor also proposed working with cities to emulate the Kalamazoo Promise – a scholarship funded by anonymous donors that provides free tuition at any state university to graduates of Kalamazoo public schools.

Cunningham said that sort of aid is crucial to expanding access to the University.

Granholm also called on legislators to pass legislation requiring all children to attend kindergarten and to increase the age at which students are eligible to drop out of school from age 16 to 18.

Philip Kearney, a professor emeritus of education, said he thinks the future success of education in Michigan hinges on these plans.

“I think she’s right on,” Kearney said. “A lot of good research shows that a solid primary education shapes the academic future of each child.”

Granholm also pressed for the removal of barriers to embryonic stem cell research, which have frustrated some University scientists and forced them to solicit private funds to conduct experiments they say are vital to the development of cures.

At the beginning of her speech, Granholm named numerous instances last year when Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass legislation. She encouraged the legislature to continue to put aside partisan politics and prioritize the interests of the state.

The tone of the governor’s address shifted dramatically after the first 40 minutes, though.

Granholm said she was disappointed with last year’s repeal of the Single Business Tax by the then-Republican-led legislature. She excoriated lawmakers for failing to replace the revenue lost by the tax cut.

She defended her plans to restructure the state’s business taxes and refuted the argument that higher taxes would deter businesses from establishing themselves in Michigan.

Keeping taxes low at the expense of basic governmental services is a step in the wrong direction, she said.

Granholm said she would propose changes to the states business tax structure on Thursday.

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