Schools chief sees bright
Superintendent: Granholm works with
Board of Ed
Chris Andrews, Lansing State
Journal, February 11, 2003
To state schools
Superintendent Tom Watkins, the election of Jennifer
Granholm as governor has been a breath of fresh air.
Watkins was often at
odds with Gov. John Engler, especially over
Despite serious budget
problems, Watkins says he's enthusiastic about the
opportunity to improve educational opportunities for
Michigan's 1.7 million schoolchildren.
Question: Granholm and
Engler both said improving public education was a top
priority. How would you compare their approaches?
Answer: In last year's
State of the State, he was talking about giving the
State Board of Education an F. This year, she
highlighted the State Board of Education in her
comments. It's a totally different tune. We're working
together, hand in glove.
The dilemma Gov.
Granholm has is we're not in a booming economy. Within
that, she's clearly setting priorities. Zero-to-five
(education), school readiness is clearly critical. ...
Even with the challenges we have, she is calling on us
all to step to the plate to meet the needs of younger
Q: Granholm emphasized
brain development in the early years and has proposed
Project Great Start, with a goal to have someone read a
half an hour a day to every child under the age of 5.
How can government make that happen?
A: What you have is the
top cheerleader for education, the governor of the
state, encouraging every one of us to do this, whether
it's to children and grandchildren. Tutoring and
mentoring our children is absolutely critical. That
half-hour a day can make a difference of whether someone
has hope and opportunity or someone may be on the public
dole or in prison.
Q: Granholm is asking
all school districts to make community service a
requirement for high school graduation. What do you
think of that?
A: It's a great idea.
The fact is there is tremendous learning opportunity by
giving back. For far too many of our children, the last
six months of high school are state-subsidized dating.
Q: Granholm proposed
legislation to deny driver's licenses to students who
are chronically truant, but critics have said those
decisions should be left to parents. What do you think?
A: You don't learn if
you're not there. The governor reminds me of FDR
(Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Do something. If that
doesn't work, do something else, but for goodness sakes,
Certainly we're not
taking away any parental right. A driver's license is a
privilege, not a right.
One of the things we
clearly know is that without a solid education, you
don't have a hope or a future. Being in class on time,
on task is what makes a difference.
Q: The state is cutting
$127 million from this year's budget for schools, and
there is a $350 million shortfall for 2004. How can the
state make improvements in education when funding is
A: It's difficult. You
flip it around, and we have $12 billion available to us.
What are the ways we can and should use that $12 billion
to provide a world-class education?
Q: You have been a
strong supporter of delaying the state income tax cut.
What are the prospects of it happening?
A: The governor and the
Legislature made it very clear that it's not something
in their playbook. My job now is to find a way to score
for the kids with the resources that are at our
Contact Chris Andrews at