It seems that the Michigan State Legislature has adopted a new mantra: out with the old and in with the new. With the idea of saving the school district money, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently signed a law providing tenured teachers incentives to retire, allowing new, younger teachers commanding lower salaries to take their place. Given the alternatives, this is the preferable course of action for the state to take. But with cuts to education becoming as regular as the seasons over the past decade, legislators must work to guarantee that a solvent, sustainable and successful public education system a right for Michigan children.

Last Friday, the state passed a bill that provides incentives for older teachers to retire between July 1 and September 1 of this year, according to Eligible, retiring teachers would receive slightly increased pension plans, and those who choose to stay will receive a three-percent pay cut. The bill’s proponents hope the retirements will make room for younger, cheaper educators, saving the public school systems up to three billion dollars and alleviating the stress of their budget shortfalls.

This bill slaps a Band-Aid on the issue of education funding, but it won’t keep the dam from bursting. The plan certainly provides a better solution than cutting teachers or more programs, both of which have been cut nearly to death. While it is troubling that older, experienced educators will be pushed out of the education system, they will at least be replaced by younger ones. As a result, students won’t have to deal with larger classrooms and less individual attention. This is far better than the state’s typical response to projected shortfalls — giving school districts less money, forcing them to lay off critically needed teachers and cut wide swaths of programs.

Though it is consistently undervalued in the state budget, lawmakers should remember that an educated citizenry is a society’s most important asset. The industries of the future will flock to states with well-educated citizens, and bringing businesses to Michigan is the key to retaining graduates and diversifying the economy away from the declining manufacturing sector. But right now, that’s off to a bad start, as evidenced by recent education statistics from Detroit: According to a Detroit Free Press report, just 27 percent of Detroit Public School students scored at or above a basic reading level.

Unfortunately, funding cuts have become a yearly occurrence. Many Michigan residents and students can’t even remember a time when their education wasn’t on the chopping block. A strong public schooling system is the great equalizer by which a student is given the tools to succeed, no matter what class they hail from. Just like fire and police protection, education is a fundamental right that citizens should expect from their government, not a privilege. Be it accomplished with tax increases or spending cuts in other areas, the integrity of Michigan’s education system must be preserved.

For now, this plan is the best the state can do to throw a life raft to its public schools. But without a long-term solution to Michigan’s structural deficit, this plan will just string the system along until next year’s inevitable cuts.

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