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Whitmer Creates Lifelong Education Department for Michigan

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued an executive order to create a second state education department that will focus on facilitating access to programs like childcare, after-school activities, and affordable education for adults.

The executive order (pdf) on Wednesday brings about a restructuring of the Michigan Department of Education and creates a fresh agency focused solely on the concept of “lifelong education.”

Known as the Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP), the recently established entity will play an expanded role in the education of students from pre-K to their early 20s.

“For too long, we have thought of education as K-12, but we know that’s not good enough. I’m establishing MiLEAP today because 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 a good-paying, high-skill, and in-demand job,” Ms. Whitmer said in a statement.

The governor said the new department will help the state’s “learning ecosystem take the jump to the next level as we grow our economy and build a brighter future for Michigan.”

MiLEAP will partner with the Michigan Department of Education and the State Board of Education. The governor’s office said the new department will develop “clear metrics;” collaborate with local, regional, and state leaders; and create a shared action plan in a bid to strengthen the educational system from preschool to post-secondary levels.

Ms. Whitmer’s office said that MiLEAP will have a significant impact on education in various age groups. For children at age 2, MiLEAP will coordinate resources to provide quality and affordable childcare, and it will ensure free pre-K enrollment at age 4, setting them up for success in kindergarten.

At age 12, MiLEAP will focus on community support, offering affordable before- and after-school programs tailored to students’ interests.

Lastly, at age 22, MiLEAP will create low or no-cost pathways for students to pursue affordable education in high-demand fields, providing on-campus support and facilitating career opportunities in Michigan.

‘Bloated Bureaucracy’

The governor’s office said that MiLEAP’s purpose is to address the existing disparities in opportunity among Michiganders, ensuring that access to education is not dependent on social connections, financial status, or geographic location.

The new department will be headed by a director appointed by the governor and it will consist of three offices: the Office of Early Childhood Education, the Office of Higher Education, and the Office of Education Partnerships.

The Office of Early Childhood Education will focus on children’s readiness for kindergarten and oversee early learning programs and policies statewide; the Office of Higher Education will focus on access to education, supporting employers, and increasing college success rates; and the Office of Education Partnerships will focus on enhancing educational opportunities through statewide partnerships and extended learning programs.

While the state’s largest teachers union, the Michigan Education Association, endorsed the plan, Republican lawmakers in the state expressed opposition, criticizing Ms. Whitmer for inflating bureaucracy instead of focusing on student outcomes.

“Call me old fashioned, but maybe we should focus more on kids learning to read and promoting education accountability, rather than expanding the bloated bureaucracy,” GOP state Sen. Aric Nesbitt said on Twitter.

MEA President-elect Chandra Madafferi, a longtime teacher from Oakland County, welcomed the governor’s announcement.

“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,” Ms. Madefferi said. “MiLEAP will help create stronger pathways to success for students from preschool through higher education and help them realize their full potential.”

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