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Top state leaders unite to accelerate public education improvements for Michigan students

May 15, 2023

LANSING, Mich. – Launch Michigan, the bipartisan partnership between top state business, education, labor and philanthropic leaders that began as a coalition, today announced its transition to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a new board. The organization aims to create the conditions through policy and advocacy that will transform Michigan’s system of public education, to give children and the state a better opportunity to compete in a global economy.

Launch Michigan’s Board of Directors is chaired by Jeff Donofrio, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, with Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart serving as vice chair. MEA President-Elect Chandra Madafferi will transition into Herbart’s spot on the board in June. An active search is underway for an executive director to lead the nonprofit.

Other board members include:
● Gerry Anderson, Former Chairman & CEO, DTE Energy
● Mark J. Bernstein, Attorney, The Sam Bernstein Law Firm; Member, University of Michigan Board of Regents
● Brian Calley, President & CEO, Small Business Association of Michigan
● Lee Graham, Executive Director, Operating Engineers 324
● Ronald E. Hall Jr., President & CEO, Bridgewater Interiors
● Steven Matthews, Superintendent, Rockford Public Schools
● Karen McPhee, Education Policy & Strategic Leadership Consultant; Former Senior Education Policy Advisor to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder
● William U. Parfet, Chairman & CEO, Northwood Group
● Punita Dani Thurman, Vice President, Program & Strategy, The Skillman Foundation
● Nikolai Vitti, Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District
● Kylee Wells, Executive Director, Ballmer Group

“Our board is comprised of leaders across many sectors who care deeply about education and our state’s collective future,” said Donofrio. “We all want a high-quality, student-centered system in Michigan — one that helps every student succeed in school, in their careers and in life. Strengthening K-12 education strengthens our talent pipeline and is key to a holistic strategy that will help Michigan become a Top 10 state. We understand implicitly that a strong, thriving public education system is the cornerstone of successful kids, prosperous communities and a strong economy.”

There were several education wins in last year’s state education budget advocated for by Launch Michigan’s board members and their organizations, including the highest state per-pupil funding in state history – $9,150 for every student — and the largest ongoing increases in history for the nearly 200,000 special education students and 710,000 at-risk students in Michigan.

Launch Michigan also championed funding for Michigan’s Future Educator Fellowships, which pay up to $10,000 in tuition for 2,500 future Michigan educators a year, $9,600 stipends a semester for student teachers, and Grow-Your-Own programs that help districts put support staff on no-cost paths to become educators.

“Michigan now has the momentum to make needed transformative change,” said Herbart. “These bipartisan investments in pressing education challenges are a good first step to building a world-class education system, but there is more to be done. Everything in public education is interconnected, so our next steps must be as well. It’s not just about revamping standards for student success or providing more funding for schools or developing new accountability measures. It’s about all those things, together and strategically, with the best interests of our students as our core goal.”

Launch Michigan’s framework lays the groundwork to holistically transform K-12 education in Michigan and creates a pathway to post-secondary education and training. It includes strategies to improve Michigan’s education system and achieve world-class outcomes through balanced resources, governance and accountability.

“Our students deserve innovation and inspiration to get and stay ahead – and we can empower Michigan’s educators to provide just that,” said Madafferi. “By attracting and supporting the next generation of teachers, support staff and administrators to the education profession, we can bring new ideas and new energy in our schools, with the promise of delivering a great public education for students in every corner of Michigan.”

Launch Michigan will continue to implement the strategies outlined in its framework, including advocating for more improvements around equity in the FY 2024 budget — specifically, support of the House recommendation of $1 billion for increased at-risk funding and the Senate recommendation to fully fund special education.

Launch Michigan is a bi-partisan, multi-sector, nonprofit organization that exists to create conditions through policy and advocacy to re-imagine Michigan’s system of public education that gives children — and our state — a better opportunity to compete in a global economy. Learn more at

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