LANSING – In her sixth State of the State address last night, Gov. Jennifer Granholm asked legislators to help her rebuild Michigan’s struggling economy by making the state’s education system more accessible and rigorous.

“No one doubts that the best way to ensure that Michigan’s people will succeed in the face of global economic change is to ensure a quality education for every child and training for every worker,” Granholm said.

With 7.4 percent of Michigan workers unemployed, the governor promised to offer aggressive tax incentives for businesses to expand and create jobs in the state. Granholm said the rapidly growing alternative energy industry should play a large role in returning Michigan to economic stability.

“If we do this right, Michigan can be the alternative energy capitol of North America,” Granholm said. “If we do it right, we’ll create thousands and thousands of jobs.”

The majority of these jobs will require more than a high school diploma, but only about 30 percent of Michigan residents hold a post-secondary degree, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

“To create new good jobs, we have set a bold course of action to diversify this economy and to give our people the skills and education they need, not only to cope in this changing world, but to thrive in it,” Granholm said.

In order to prepare Michigan residents to fill these jobs and “give Michigan the best-educated work force in the nation,” Granholm said she will continue to work to meet the goal set in 2004 to double the number of college graduates in Michigan by 2014.

“We’ll make progress throughout our education system, from preschool to grad school to on-the-job training,” Granholm said.

Granholm said she is “looking forward” to signing bipartisan legislation that will provide full tuition scholarships for students across the state to receive post-secondary degrees. The bill is modeled after the privately funded Kalamazoo Promise scholarship program, which provides money for students enrolled in public schools in Kalamazoo to pay for a college degree in Michigan. Funding would come from property taxes in cities and towns and from private donations.

This program comes two years after the Michigan Promise scholarship was created, which Granholm proposed in her 2005 State of the State address. The Michigan Promise scholarship provides Michigan high school students with up to $4,000 in scholarships from the state to attend a public college in the state if they state expectations on the Michigan Merit Exam.

In order to prepare students to succeed at post-secondary schools, Granholm said the budget she will introduce later this year will boost investment in K-12 education and will call for an education system focused on career and workforce preparation.

The budget will establish a “21st Century Schools Fund” which could create up to 100 small, specialized “early college high schools” with demanding, career-focused curriculum, Granholm said. After five years of study, students at these schools will graduate with both a high school diploma and a two-year college degree. Six early college high schools were created in Michigan in the past year.

Citing “extremely limited opportunities” for high school drop outs, Granholm asked legislators to support a bill sponsored by Sen. Liz Brater, a Democrat from Ann Arbor which would raise the minimum drop out age from 16 to 18.

Brater said the change is necessary because people without a high school diploma will only earn half as much income as a high school graduate.

According to a study released by National Center for Educational Statistics last December, 3.9 percent of Michigan high school students dropped out of school during the 2004-2005 school year.

The current requirement is outdated and tells students that they don’t need a high school diploma, Brater said.

“That’s not a good message,” Brater said. “It says, oh, it’s OK to leave when you’re 16 and you haven’t finished.”

In addition to preparing young residents for the workforce, Brater added that Granholm’s proposals for retraining former manufacturing employees in new fields would be critical to reviving the state’s economy.

“It’s essential that we give workers opportunity to retrain for the realities of the 21st century economy,” Brater said. “Manufacturing jobs are leaving the state and we need to give workers the opportunity to prepare for the jobs that we do have here, which are more of the high-tech, life sciences, advanced manufacturing type jobs that require more specialized skills.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) said in a written statement posted on his website after the speech that Republicans are looking forward to working with the governor on her proposed agenda.

“We call on the governor to recognize the challenges facing our state, and provide a specific plan on how we can work together to turn this state around,” Bishop said. “This is also a good opportunity for the governor to show restraint and good judgment and not call for new programs that the state and its residents cannot afford.”

Granholm said bipartisanship work on her aggressive agenda would bring the state out of economic turmoil.

“We have laid the right foundation to emerge from this period of economic restructuring as a more prosperous state,” Granholm said. “There are important, strong planks on that foundation: the most rigorous education standards ever, college scholarships for every child, the biggest diversification strategy in history, a major business tax rewrite, solving the fiscal crisis, training for every adult who needs it.”

-The Associated Press contributed to the report.

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