THE BLOG

Michigan's New Governor Faces Tough Questions

01/04/2011 05:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With the start of the New Year and a new governor at the helm, Michigan faces a lot of questions. After coming out of what has been deemed the lost decade, Governor Rick Snyder is ready to get to work. Michigan was the only state to have a loss in its population according to recent census results. Along with this loss, Snyder faces a $1.85 billion deficit. How will Snyder address these challenges and how will these decisions affect education in the state?

A priority of Snyder's agenda is to propose a two-year budget that will address the deficit. One of his top concerns is addressing public employees' benefits. The pensions and health insurance plans currently in place are not sustainable. Snyder, whose prior experience is in the private sector, desires for concessions to be made from unions across the state, including the teachers union. With the massive rise of charter schools throughout the state and economic crisis, the teachers union may have little leverage in this debate.

Another bullet point on Snyder's agenda is considering the consolidation of school districts. Most cities in Michigan have their own superintendent and separate services. Although no detailed plan has been proposed, it could be as simple as sharing bus services across different cities or combining all the cities of a county into one district. Either way all options are on the table and with individual cities in Michigan either declaring bankruptcy or close to it, they are willing to listen to any and all ideas.

As we all know teachers are paid poorly considering the amount of work that they do. The original intent of strong pensions and health insurance benefits was to help supplement the low salaries teachers often earn. In a state known for its unions, Michigan teachers actually earn some of the highest salaries compared to teachers in other states.

However, there is a mass surplus of teachers being trained at universities across the state. This teacher pipeline has been raided by other states for a while now since these new teachers cannot find jobs in Michigan. In fact, so many young teachers leave that early retirement is often offered to current teachers. The intent is not only to alleviate the financial burden of veteran teachers' high salaries and benefits, but also to keep the recent college graduates from leaving the state. I should know. Over three years ago I left Michigan in order to take a teaching job in Baltimore.

As mentioned previously, there has also been a mass influx of charter schools opening all across the state, with over 50,000 students enrolled in charter schools in Detroit alone. With more teachers signing up for positions at charter schools, the teachers union is losing its strength in numbers tradition. Also impending layoffs are dangled across teachers in every district due to possible consolidations. Thus Snyder is in a good place to get things done.

In the words of Rahm Emanuel, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Neither does Snyder.