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 Article of Interest - Michigan Education

Schools chief sees bright side
Superintendent: Granholm works with Board of Ed

by 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 accountability standards.

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 citizens.

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, do something.

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 down?

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 disposal.

Contact Chris Andrews at 377-1054 or


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