COMMENTARY: Michigan Requires Equitable Education and Economic Investments to Compete Against Top-Performing States

By Jeff Donofrio, Dr. M. Roy Wilson, and Cindy Pasky


There’s a classic cartoon about equity and equality.  Three kids of differing height want to watch a baseball game but a fence is blocking their view.  Standing on boxes of equal height doesn’t much change the view (equality) but standing on boxes sized to each child’s height brings them all to the top of the fence (equity), and all are able to see the game. 


Support for Michigan’s educational and economic growth requires the same carefully calibrated funding and policy boosts.  Achieving equity through appropriate investments will get every Michigan resident into the game whether they are still in school or well into the workforce.


Business Leaders for Michigan’s plan outlining how our state can “Compete to Win” is built around two intertwined fundamentals –  education/talent and economic growth.  An educated, adaptable workforce is critical to retaining and attracting business.  Business growth and development creates stable, well-paying jobs and a more prosperous citizenry.


We must start with schools, teachers and sensible steps that will transform K-12 education, resulting in students prepared to succeed as they enter trade programs, colleges, universities and eventually the work force.  Michigan ranks 41st for high school graduation rate and in the bottom third in 8th grade math scores and 4th grade reading.   We can’t blame hard-working and caring educators or administrators for the results.  It’s a flawed system that’s been in place for decades. What we can do is start to shift the trajectory with near-term changes and transformational investments in every district.  We must take action to stop over half of Michigan students from being left behind.


Educational equity doesn’t end with a high school diploma. According to a report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, low-income students at nine of the 15 public universities in our state graduate at a rate below their peers in other states. It’s not just a moral issue either. To be competitive for economic investments, Michigan can’t afford to leave anyone behind. In just the last few years, both Georgia and Kentucky surpassed Michigan in the percentage of adults with a college degree or certification, and Tennessee is hot on our heels.  Developing and implementing a world class college and career-ready performance standard will help ensure that all students graduate high school fully prepared for continued success and fully prepared for whatever is next in their journey.



Driving additional dollars into the classroom and especially to the schools and students that need extra support will ensure that all Michigan’s kids have a chance to reach their full potential.  Business Leaders believes we need to provide equitable, robust school funding, implement teacher retention and recruitment programs, and support supplemental programs that will mitigate COVID learning losses and accelerate overall learning.  These are all recommendations in our “Compete to Win” plan. Those changes will provide the basis for true, long-term, systemic change. Michigan needs a comprehensive, multi-year strategy or we will continue to lose ground to states and countries that are better preparing their people.


Completing a college degree is important and all high school graduates, regardless of their socio-economic status, should be provided that opportunity. Equally important is a clear commitment to career and technical education (CTE).  By strengthening connections between CTE programs and employers, trades and apprenticeships, we can smooth the transition to post-secondary learning and solid, well compensated careers.  Strengthened connections to employers and apprenticeships coupled with the needed financial support of these programs across Michigan will encourage students interested in CTE and help fill a critical employment gap in our state.


Earning a degree or certificate is significant, but many encounter barriers to completing that degree or progressing in their careers.  Supporting our students and workers, especially at entry level, is an essential step to success.   Michiganders must have access to safe, affordable housing, reliable public transportation and affordable, excellent childcare. Improving options for addressing people’s everyday needs, including those in poverty, means they can focus on the future instead of continually worrying about the present. 


Over the last few years we’ve also seen how states who consistently win jobs and investments have found ways to build consistent, competitive education and economic growth strategies; strategies that cross party lines and transcend political terms.  With $5.8 billion in one time state budget surpluses and federal stimulus we can help greatly accelerate strategies that invest in Michiganders and correct historic inequities that have made it impossible for some of our residents to succeed.


Today’s investment will pay dividends well into our future as we retain more of our college graduates, attract new businesses, strengthen and diversify our workforce, build our tax base, and create a state where opportunity is not just a possibility, it’s a promise.


Learn more about how we can “Compete to Win” by visiting



Jeff Donofrio is President & CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan, the state’s business roundtable. Cindy Pasky is the Founder, President and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions and is on the Board of Business Leaders for Michigan. Dr. M. Roy Wilson is the President of Wayne State University and is on the Board of Business Leaders for Michigan.

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