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Whitmer Creates New Department for Early, Higher Learning

July 18, 2023

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Wednesday creating a new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential – or MiLEAP – to focus on preschool and postsecondary education.

MiLEAP would partner with the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and State Board of Education to establish metrics, collaborate with local, regional and state leaders, and develop a plan to strengthen preschool and post-high school learning.

“For too long, we have thought of education as K-12, but we know that’s not good enough. I’m establishing MiLEAP today because we need to get every kid started early, in pre-K, so they succeed in kindergarten, have paths after graduation to get higher education tuition-free, and forge strong partnerships with our employers so they can get good-paying, high-skill, and in-demand jobs,” Whitmer said.

The governor’s office said MiLEAP would have three goals: to add capacity to early learning in Michigan; focus on the progress of Whitmer’s Sixty by 30 plan, which set a goal of 60% of Michiganders with a skill certificate or degree by 2030; and prioritize community, regional and state partnerships.

Once appointed, the MiLEAP director would join the governor’s cabinet. MiLEAP will be composed of three offices: Office of Early Childhood Education, Office of Higher Education and Office of Education Partnerships.

The Office of Early Childhood Education would lead the policy and programs dealing with early learning and care, family engagement and education on early learning, pre-K, and childcare.

The Office of Higher Education would focus on state student financial aid, work on increasing college enrollment, college graduation and attainment rates.

The Office of Education Partnerships would look to expand access to programs that extend learning beyond the classroom, such as before- and after-school programs, summer programs, and employer-partnerships.

Funding for the three offices, and programs within them, would be transferred from four different areas, including the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO), Department of Treasury, and the MDE.

“I respect the governor’s constitutional authority to restructure state government,” the State Superintendent Michael Rice said.

One of the programs transferring from MDE into the new department would be the Office of Great Start, which was created by an executive order by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011.

“The team in our Office of Great Start has done terrific work over the past 12 years, and we appreciate its tenacity in serving children pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, and post-pandemic,” Rice said.

The Michigan PreK-12 Literacy Commission, created by Whitmer in 2016, and the Governor’s Education Advisory Council, created in 2019, would also be moved to MiLEAP.

The Office of Sixty by 30 and the Tri-Share Child Care Program will be moved out of LEO to MiLEAP.

The Child Care Licensing Bureau and Bureau of Community and Health Systems would be transferred from LARA to MiLEAP.

The Scholarship Administration, including the MI Student Aid office, and the Michigan Student Scholarship and Grants portal would be moved out of Treasury to MiLEAP.

MiLEAP would also be coordinating with the Department of Technology, Management and Budget to use data from the programs it would take over from the four departments.

Language in the Executive Order also reserved the constitutional authority of both the State Board of Education and the various university and college boards of trustees.

House Republican Leader Matt Hall (R-Kalamazoo) said Whitmer should be focused on fixing the current education system.

“Democrats are undoing accountability measures for our local schools left and right, they’re spending hundreds of millions on pork projects instead of putting it into the classroom, and our state superintendent doesn’t even report to the governor. Expanding that system without fixing it first is an empty promise and not a solution,” Hall said.

The Great Lakes Education Project Executive Director Beth DeShone said the move would only further the bureaucracy in the Michigan public school system. She argues the government should instead be more focused on giving families more control within the public education system.

“Nobody knows what our kids need to succeed (more than) their parents, and another new statewide public school bureaucracy won’t change that,” DeShone said.

The creation of the department was touted by the Michigan Education Association (MEA) teachers’ union, and MEA President-elect Chandra Madafferi said she was “thrilled” to see the announcement.

“Education is a lifelong pursuit, and it is important that we provide the scaffolding needed to assist students and parents every step along the way. MiLEAP will help create stronger pathways to success for students from preschool through higher education and help them realize their full potential,” Madafferi said.

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