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 Article of Interest - Education

Supt. Watkins talks education's future
Gaylord Herald Times, July 30, 2002


He may not be endorsing a candidate for governor this time around, but state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Watkins had plenty to say about the future of public education and Michigan's young people during a stop in Gaylord Monday to present at the summer Transition Institute at Treetops Resort.


"I think we've got a good crop of people," Watkins said of the candidates vying for the top seat in the state. But that's as far as he would go to endorse a candidate. Watkins does hope that whoever eventually wins the majority vote of the people will work with the Dept. of Education to make public education a top priority.

      "Everything we do should be about helping teachers teach and helping students learn," the state school chief continued. "I want to find a way to lift our kids up. Let's try to find a way to make it happen."

      In regards to the transition program workshop, which strives to plan and develop around the students' needs, Watkins explained how important it is to examine earlier on children with disabilities and special needs. He was making his stop in Gaylord to get directly involved in the process.

      "That is absolutely critical," said Watkins of the initiative to make certain children are prepared for life after public school programs.

      Following with the most recent accreditation standards set forth by the state, every student leaving school should have a plan for life beyond the school walls. Watkins strongly feels that should be no different for children involved in special education.

      According to Watkins, transition teams are working to break down barriers and integrate services that presently exist to do just that. State agencies are working together for the best possible end result and listening to input from parents, teachers, people with disabilities and school administrators to pull ideas together.

      Watkins is committed to making sure special education students don't leave the public school system and go nowhere in life. He wants to see jobs created so everyone can become a productive member of society, contributing to the greater good and creating a better life for all parties involved. Watkins sees as his goal to work with other agencies to "wrap our arms around the child in need."

      Of course, Watkins was quick to acknowledge that all of the programs and plans take funding. And, in Watkins' opinion, special education is "the granddaddy of unfunded mandates."


      Watkins is adamant that the 40 percent funding laid out at the time the federal government made mandatory special education needs to come through to the state level. Instead, Michigan receives only 12 to 14 percent funding from the federal government - not enough to run the programs as it should. "It's up to us as responsible adults to find ways to do it," he explained of what he believes to be more important than ever.

      On the general side of educational funding in Michigan, Watkins is certain districts will see a jump in the state per pupil funding from $6,500 to $6,700 because of tax increases on tobacco and the lottery on Sunday. He emphasized, however, that all of the money is absorbed into the system with personnel salary increases and other expenses which are constantly on the rise. "People are having to tighten their belts," he said.

      Watkins knows that Proposal A needs to be tweaked in several respects by taking a close look at creative and innovative solutions. He said that one district in the Upper Peninsula is looking at a four-day school week to cut costs. Additionally, he sees ways to improve the situation with more effective cost reductions and a closer look at the infrastructure of districts struggling to keep up with technology and facilities.

      As Supt. of Public Instruction for the past year and a half, Watkins' goal has been to make Michigan the best in the nation in public education, he said. He sees the future in the state's school children and believes public education to be the greatest possible investment the state can make.

      To meet that goal, Watkins encourages anyone interested to offer their comments and suggestions on the Dept. of Education Web site at  

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