Gov. Whitmer launches new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential

On the heels of signing Michigan’s historic bipartisan education budget last summer for Fiscal Year 2024, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has continued her commitment to substantially improve long-term education outcomes across the state. In early December, Whitmer, true to her commitment, launched the new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP).

Established by executive order, MiLEAP will focus on developing talent to fill in-demand jobs and careers through advancing and facilitating early learning and higher education initiatives, programs, and forward-thinking strategies. The goals are to vastly educate, keep talent in Michigan, and strengthen the state’s economy well into the future.

“Every Michigander deserves a path to ‘make it in Michigan’ with strong, lifelong learning support and a path to a good job,” Whitmer said in a statement earlier this month. “However, for too long, we have thought of education as just K-12. We know that’s not good enough.”

Whitmer touts MiLEAP as an innovative education department that will set and tackle bold goals, including expanding access to pre-K for all 4-year-olds, offering more affordable paths for high school graduates to obtain a higher education or in-demand skills training, providing pathways for 60% of the state’s working-age adults to earn a skill certificate or college degree by 2030, and forging stronger partnerships with the state’s employers to produce ongoing good-paying job opportunities.

Whitmer has appointed Michelle Richard to be MiLEAP’s acting director. Richard will oversee a diverse team of more than 300 staffers to advance the new department’s mission and goals.

“I am excited to get started with the talented team at MiLEAP to continue delivering for kids and families across Michigan,” said Richard, who previously served as the Governor’s senior education advisor. “Under Governor Whitmer’s leadership, we’ve made child care easier to find, expanded access to free pre-K, lowered the cost of college, and helped thousands of Michiganders earn a skill certificate or college degree. But we know there’s so much more to do. I am excited to work with partners inside and outside of state government to build on this momentum.”

To better reach topline goals, MiLEAP has taken overall leadership of the Office of Early Childhood Education, Office of Higher Education, and Office of Education Partnerships. In addition, many staffers from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, the Michigan Department of Education, and the Michigan Treasury have been transferred to MiLEAP to work in their same roles.

Whitmer’s statement announced that all 15 Michigan public universities have agreed to collaborate with MiLEAP to better connect graduates with immense employment opportunities and provide the state with a large and sustained pool of talent.

“Under Governor Whitmer’s leadership, and with bipartisan support, Michigan has witnessed a generational renaissance in its focus on and investment in boosting the state’s most vital economic metrics: educational attainment, college affordability, workforce talent, and business attraction and retention,” said Daniel J. Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities. “The state’s 15 public universities are eager to collaborate with MiLEAP and the Office of Higher Education housed within it to further build upon and execute an agenda to ensure increased economic prosperity for all Michiganders.”

WCCCD Chancellor Dr. Curtis L. Ivery applauds the Governor’s launch of MiLEAP.

“This decisive action recognizes and supports that every Michiganian deserves to explore, learn, grow, and develop the skills they need to thrive,” said Ivery, who leads one of the nation’s largest urban community colleges. “This strategic decision and investment benefit both today and for the long-term future of Michigan. We look forward to this partnership of strategic coordination to advance the ‘whole person’ in Michigan education experiences.”

While MiLEAP is widely lauded now, earlier this year, there were gray areas of concern from some stake-holding entities, including the State Board of Education. The Board voted unanimously to ask Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to issue a formal opinion on the constitutionality of MiLEAP.

“I definitely have major concerns and reservations about the constitutionality of the governor’s executive order,” said Nikki Snyder, one of two Republican board members. “I’m not sure that the AG’s opinion will adequately satisfy those concerns, but it’s definitely a step forward.”

State Board of Education President Dr. Pamela Pugh said in a statement in late August that “The State Board will not stand by and watch its authority be threatened or stripped away, at the expense of our children’s future.”

Nessel didn’t write a formal opinion, but instead issued a letter to State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice, stating, “This letter should not be construed as any type of opinion, as I believe that, on its face, the Executive Order presents no constitutional concern warranting the issuance of an opinion.”

The AG later said, “…the plain language of the Executive Order indicates that it is intended to create a spirit of cooperation, coordination, and collaboration between MiLEAP and the Board that will complement the Board’s activities while also specifically precluding MiLEAP from infringing on the Board’s constitutional authority…”

“Whether or not we agree on the formation of a new department, we’re all going to continue to serve kids,” said Rice.

Nevertheless, many educational stakeholders across Michigan believe the new department is a difference maker for preparing students from the “cradle to a career.”

“It seems to me that MiLEAP is a true ‘innovation engine’ for the state with clear end games – cradle-to-career – to maximize potential and accelerate change in the education and preparation space with shared prosperity for all in mind,” said Chana Edmond-Verley, CEO of Vibrant Futures, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based organization creating cradle-to-career opportunities and experiences for youth and families. “This refresh represents the mindsets of top-tier states.”

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