Report: Here’s What Michigan Parents Want to See Change in Public Schools

Members of the Michigan Parents' Council pose with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after their first meeting in September. (Courtesy Photo)

By Hope O'Dell

December 16, 2022

Michigan parents want to see more resources dedicated to mental health needs, school safety, helping students with diverse needs, and supporting teachers and support staff.

MICHIGAN—A state task force formed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this summer has announced some big ideas for how to improve public schools—including some recommendations that came directly from Michigan parents. 

Over the summer, in response to a demand for more parental involvement in public education, Whitmer formed the 13-member Michigan Parents’ Council. The Council’s job was simple: gather input from parents on how the state can better support students in public schools, and relay recommendations to incorporate into the next state budget.

READ MORE: Advisory Council to Give Michigan Parents More Say in Public Education

And this month, the Council identified four areas that need the most work:

Mental Health

The pandemic created a children’s mental health crisis. From March 2020 to October 2020, mental health–related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17 compared to 2019 numbers, according to the American Psychological Association. 

In short: students’ mental health needs more support in schools, and Michigan’s parents agree. 

The Council reported that 84% of parents said that student mental health is very important to them

Here’s what they told the Council they want out of the next state budget: 

  • More school and community mental health providers 
  • More outreach to parents and caregivers about resources available at schools
  • More transparency on how schools are using funds to support mental health 
  • More attention on teacher and administrator mental health

School Safety

In November 2021, a gunman opened fire at Oxford High School and killed four students. The shooter was a student who had been exhibiting concerning behavior in the days leading up to the shooting. And it was a tragedy that hit close to home for many Michigan parents—with 92% of survey respondents reporting to the Council that school safety is important or very important to them

They also asked for: 

  • Open lines of communication between school and parents
  • More accountability for student behavior issues—including for parents
  • More training for school resource officers—and not from a law enforcement perspective
  • Improvements to aging school buildings that are unsafe and inequitable for students

It’s worth noting that the American Society of Civil Engineers’ latest Infrastructure Report Card gave Michigan’s school facilities a D+ because nearly every district in the state has outdated buildings.

Students with Diverse Needs

Many parents told the Council that social-emotional learning and student mental health were bigger priorities than academic performance, but concerns about unfinished learning were more prominent.

Of the parents that the Michigan Parents’ Council surveyed: 

  • 74% reported that unfinished learning is important or very important to them 
  • 71% reported that after-school programs are important or very important 
  • 72% reported that preschool and early childhood programs are important or very important 

They also told the council that: 

  • Getting access to individualized education programs is difficult in some districts
  • Students need access to more tutoring and extracurricular activities
  • Standardized tests take too much time and create undue pressures on students and teachers
  • High school students can face unnecessary academic pressure from parents and peers

Staff Shortages

Across the country, 55% of teachers are thinking of leaving teaching earlier than planned, according to the National Education Association. And coming into the 2022-23 school year, 53% of schools had reported being understaffed nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

The National Education Association suggests that higher salaries—along with other supports—would help keep teachers from leaving the profession. Michigan currently ranks No. 41 in the nation for average starting salaries for teachers—about $4,000 less than the national average at $37,820, statistics show.

Most parents (85%) also told the Council that teacher retention and recruitment was very important to them, and expressed concern that good teachers were actively leaving the profession.

They also told the Council that: 

  • The public opinion of educators is having a negative impact on teacher retention.
  • There aren’t always enough staff to support students’ needs.
  • School staff deserve to be paid more.
  • Educators need meaningful professional development opportunities.
  • School staff and future teachers need more pathways to certification.

What did the Council recommend?

The Michigan Parents’ Council has the power to recommend policy and budget changes for the upcoming school year. Here’s what they suggested for the 2023-24 budget: 

  • Prioritize and support access to student mental health and school safety funding for schools, including for counselors, social workers, school programming, and curricular needs.
  • Provide schools with resources and flexibility to meet unique learning needs.
  • Continue supporting creative teacher recruitment and certification funding strategies.
  • Expand opportunities for parents and students to give more feedback on public education.

These recommendations will be taken into consideration when the governor submits her budget to the Legislature in February—although the Legislature will have the power to make changes to what she submits. The governor must sign a final budget by Oct. 1.

Read the full Michigan Parents’ Council report here.

RELATED: Michigan Voted in Favor of Public Education in the Midterms

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