When Michigan voters go to the polls on November 2 to elect a new governor and a new legislature, there is near unanimity that jobs and the economy will be the paramount issue. At the same time, Michigan’s education system, from pre-school to grad school, is in crisis. School districts have recently seen deep cuts in funding, a fate the state’s higher education institutions endured throughout the last decade. While revenues to support education have fallen, expectations for schools at all levels are increasing as leaders across the political spectrum acknowledge the impact quality education has on economic growth and job creation.
Clearly, the new leaders who emerge when the votes are counted this fall will have critical decisions to make about the education policies that will guide Michigan in this decade. What is far less clear is how education issues will affect this election or if they will affect it at all. This policy seminar will attempt to answer those questions by examining the contest for governor and competitive house and senate races across the state. To do this, we will explore the most important education policy issues facing Michigan today and what the candidates are saying about them, get to know the various education interest groups and how they are trying to influence the election, and look at the role the media plays in bringing education issues into focus in the campaign. We will pay particular attention to the question of how we pay for the education we want in the state in an era of diminished resources.
Whenever we can in this course, we are going to make our work relevant and accessible to the public. While we will follow the governor’s race as a group, each student will focus on a single legislative race and the way education issues manifest themselves in that local campaign and write a mid-term paper analyzing that specific race. We will share what we learn about those campaigns on a website that we also use to make class presentations available to a wider audience. Later in the course, we will collaborate to create a report that analyzes the role education issues and interest group played in the election and why. Students will also write a final paper comprised of two education policy recommendation memos, one to the new governor, the other to a legislative leader of the opposite party.
The eight class sessions we hold before the election will each contain a policy track that explores major education issues and a politics track focused on the players and strategies at work in the campaign. Our ninth session, which will follow on the heels of the election, will focus on analyzing what happened at the polls and what it means. Our final four class sessions will continue the policy track by looking ahead at what we can expect from the election winners while on the politics track, we will dig into our own findings and insights from others about whether education issues played a role in the campaign outcomes and how they mattered.