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Governor’s Second State of the State Focuses on Education, Other Issue Areas

Jennifer Smith

By Jennifer Smith, MASB Director of Government Relations

DashBoard, Feb. 5, 2020

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her second State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020. Her speech was focused on four issue areas: roads, health care, jobs and education, and lasted just over a half-hour.

Some of the speech highlights included a proposal to cover road repairs on state trunklines and highways with bonds. Last Thursday, the State Transportation Commission approved the issuance of up to $3.5 billion in bonds. This funding will not cover local projects; the money from the bonds can only go toward state projects. The Governor also indicated a desire to continue working with the Legislature to come up with a more comprehensive plan to cover all necessary road repairs.

The health care initiatives focused on better and longer coverage for low-income individuals and women in poverty who are new mothers, specifically women of color. She pointed to statistics that show that women of color have a higher mortality rate from pregnancy and birth-related issues and said the state would work to address those disparities. A new task force on prescription drug costs and access is to be created in the next few weeks. She also urged the Legislature to write parts of the Affordable Care Act provisions into Michigan law. This legislation is currently being worked on by a group of House Democrats.

Regarding jobs and the economy she touted the number of automotive-related jobs that were created this past year and the new plant that will be built in Detroit. She directed the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity to expand overtime rights to more workers. Currently, only those making less than $35,000 a year are guaranteed overtime benefits. The Attorney General has been talking about payroll fraud—purposefully misclassifying employees to avoid giving benefits or overtime protections—and cracking down on companies that are doing so. The Governor touted that work and there is a package of bills in the Legislature to tighten the law around this and increase penalties.

Finally, in looking at education, she focused on early literacy and the third grade reading law. The budget is expected to reflect increased funding for literacy coaches and having them train teachers on how to identify reading issues. She talked about working with local foundations to help parents navigate and understand the third grade reading law, which she described as “punitive” and a “nightmare for families.” She also once again pushed for equitable funding based on the needs of the student instead of a one-size-fits-all funding model.

Universal Pre-K for districts with low test scores or a high poverty population, as well as expanding access to child care were high on her list of priorities. This is another issue we expect to see reflected in the budget with increases to the Great Start Readiness Program and changes in qualifications for the child care subsidy.

She also touted her state FAFSA challenge meant to encourage more high school seniors to fill out the form to potentially qualify for federal financial assistance. The school with the highest percentage wins a cash prize. As of this writing, 36.5% of seniors have filled it out; the goal is 75% statewide. Last year the 60 by 30 initiative was introduced, and she expressed her continued commitment to that. The goal is 60% post-high school attainment by 2030. To assist in getting there, she urged the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 268, which creates the MI Reconnect Program, establishing tuition-free opportunities for adults to go back to school to get training in new and specialized fields.

In last week’s Views From the Capitol, we recapped the speech and talked a little more in-depth about some of the proposals through questions from the participants. It is now available to view online. The Governor’s budget presentation to the Legislature is scheduled for tomorrow and that will reflect more details of the issues covered and her plans for each of them.

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