With pay cuts and job losses plaguing the state, representatives Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor) and Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem) have proposed an initiative that would reshape the way education in Michigan is funded.

The MI Future plan — which could take the form of a ballot initiative or a series of bills — would help cover the tuition costs and mandatory fees for students who choose to attend a state college or university. It would also fund a universal preschool program.

The plan would benefit families living in Michigan whose incomes are less than $107,000, and the initiative’s funding would come from a 1.15 percent increase in the state income tax.

In an exclusive interview yesterday, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she hasn’t yet reviewed the proposal, but that she’s excited lawmakers are discussing ways to make higher education more accessible.

“If the discussion is around the importance of education, in particular higher education in addition to K-12, then I’m thrilled people are having the discussion,” she said.

Coleman said the bill raises a larger discussion about making college a reality for more students in the state.

“The more important thing to me is that people are seriously thinking about ways to enhance participation in higher education for people in Michigan,” she said. “Whether this is the right thing or not, I don’t know, but I love that we’re talking about it.”

At a press conference introducing the plan, Smith said the state must take “bold action” to address the burden imposed on families by the cost of higher education.

“It has become a reality that many parents can no longer afford a college education for their children,” she said. “This plan will grant higher education access to anyone who has not already completed a bachelor’s degree, who graduated from a Michigan high school and who earns $107,000 or less.”

The average cost of four years of in-state undergraduate tuition at a state college in Michigan is $35,012, according to a press release distributed with the announcement.

If the MI Future plan were put into effect, the average Michigan resident making the median income of $47,000 would pay $524 per year in additional taxes. Residents would get these tax dollars back later in the form of a rebate that would fund their children’s college education at any public university in the state.

The plan was introduced as a potential voter initiative that would be included on the ballot in the next state elections, which take place in 2010. By linking tuition to the Detroit Consumer Price Index, the plan would also help keep tuition costs at public universities from continuing to rise by encouraging legislators to increase university funding, which has been consistently cut over the last several years.

The program would also fund universally available preschool for four-year-olds across the state. Warren said this measure is necessary because early childhood education is essential for preparing children for school and for ensuring that children with working parents are in a positive, educational environment.

“MI Future represents a reinvestment in our children and an opportunity for Michiganders to make sure our budget always reflects our values,” she wrote in the release. “With this kind of bold action, I have no doubt that we will emerge from these challenging times in a better position than ever before.”

— Daily Staff Reporter Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.

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