New State Department to Support Michigan Students from Cradle to Career

By Kyle Kaminski

July 13, 2023

The newly announced Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential will focus on early learning and higher education to improve long-term student outcomes.

LANSING—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed an executive order to establish a new state department. She’s calling it the Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential, or MiLEAP for short. And state officials expect it’ll pay big dividends for students.

“Every Michigander deserves a path to make it in Michigan with strong, lifelong learning support,” Whitmer said in a statement this week. “MiLEAP will help our learning ecosystem take the jump to the next level as we grow our economy and build a brighter future for Michigan.” 

Here’s the deal:

Michigan already has a state Department of Education, which is primarily tasked with running public schools for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. MiLEAP represents a more targeted effort to get every Michigan child on the track to a quality education at an earlier age, as well as to ensure students are supported after they graduate from high school, Whitmer said.

As a new state department, MiLEAP is set to partner with the existing Department of Education (and new Growing Michigan Together Council) with three stated primary goals: 

  1. Ensure every child is supported at an early age so they’re ready for kindergarten.
  2. Help every student access an affordable or free certificate or degree after high school.
  3. Craft community, regional, and state partnerships to offer more resources for students.

The end-goal: Help students, boost the state’s economy, and grow Michigan’s population.

“For too long, we have thought of education as K-12, but we know that’s not good enough,” Whitmer said. “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.”

Under the new departmental structure, state officials said they plan to begin helping Michigan families with two-year-old children obtain access to more affordable child care options. They’ll also focus on getting more Michigan children enrolled in free preschool programs, officials said.

State officials said MiLEAP will also be tasked with boosting access to before- and after-school programs for children, with some geared toward helping older students find future careers. The new department is also set to help high school graduates with low- or no-cost opportunities for higher education or training, with the goal of helping them land stable careers in Michigan.

How will it work?

The new department will be led by a new director, who will be appointed by Whitmer by Dec. 1. 

Unlike the state superintendent, the yet-to-be-hired director will report directly to the governor and join Whitmer’s cabinet. MiLEAP will also be split into three offices: The Office of Early Childhood Education; the Office of Higher Education; and the Office of Education Partnerships. 

The Early Childhood office will lead efforts to ensure all young children are meeting their developmental milestones and entering kindergarten with the tools and abilities to succeed. State officials said the office will also oversee all programs and policies related to early learning and care, family engagement and education, preschool programs, and child care offerings. 

The Higher Education office will focus on connecting graduates with skill certificates and low- or no-cost college degrees, as well as helping local employers hire the talent they need to grow. State officials said the office will also oversee state-level financial aid to help lower the cost of the college, and help students make decisions about what to do after they leave high school.

The office is also poised to help accelerate progress toward the state’s Sixty by 30 goal of having 60% of working-age Michiganders with a skill certificate or college degree by 2030. 

The Education Partnerships office will take the lead on building (and sustaining) partnerships with employers, colleges, and other community organizations to bolster educational opportunities for students—including expanding access to extracurricular programs.

State data shows that about 751,000 Michigan kids want access to after-school programs but can’t due to lack of availability. State officials said those who miss out on opportunities more often tend to be Black, Indigenous, and students of color whose families have a low income.  

Erin Skene-Pratt, director of the Michigan Afterschool Partnership, said it’s a cycle that would likely continue without some additional statewide support for after-school programming.

“Afterschool helps working parents stay on the job while enriching youth through positive supports and activities,” she said in a statement. “It helps boost academic achievement, personal growth, and healthy relationships. And now, thanks to the Governor’s support, afterschool is about to become a much more robust part of the fabric of our lives in Michigan.

Whitmer said the department will collect data and develop a new “shared action plan” for student success—all to build an education system that can “support the economy of the future.”

What are people saying?

Chandra Madafferi, a longtime Oakland County teacher and president-elect of the Michigan Education Association, said the department will help to create more opportunities for students.

“Education is a lifelong pursuit, and it’s important that we provide the scaffolding needed to assist students and parents every step along the way,” Madafferi said in a statement. 

Lawmakers—like Rep. Samantha Steckloff (D-Farmington Hills), the chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee—also applauded the new statewide focus on supporting students.

“Pulling together our state’s dedicated continuing education resources into one centralized hub is good for our students, and good for our economies,” she said in a statement on Wednesday. 

In a statement, Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) said he was “encouraged by this strategic move”—especially after the legislature recently passed a state budget that included significant investments toward eventually offering free preschool to all 4-year-old children in Michigan.

“A high-quality public education doesn’t start in kindergarten,” he said. “It starts well before that.”

READ MORE: ‘Make it in Michigan’ Plan to Invest in Michiganders—With Big Payoffs

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here. 


  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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