Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: Investing in Literacy is Investing in Our Future

By Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Special to the Michigan Chronicle

March is Reading Month in Michigan and I am hitting the road, visiting elementary schools, high schools, and early learning classrooms across our state to read books to classrooms full of enthusiastic students. Literacy sets our kids and our communities up for success. But racial equity gaps in literacy hurt everyone. That is why my administration has made historic investments to help more Michiganders read. Let’s build on this progress and ensure every Michigander has the power of literacy.

Reading entertains us, unleashes our imaginations, boosts our empathy, and empowers us to see ourselves as the protagonists of our own stories. Students who read are adults who succeed. Unfortunately, for too long, school districts and communities of color haven’t had the resources they need to help every person read, stifling opportunity. Michigan was ranked 43rd in 4th grade reading on the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress. That’s unacceptable.

We are working hard to change this status quo. Since my first day in office, we have more than tripled the number of literacy coaches working in schools helping kids learn how to read—adding 10 in Muskegon, 13 in Genesee County, and 83 in Wayne County. We mailed books to kids through the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Last year, we invested $25.5 million towards grants and coaches to help students achieve their academic potential and funded literacy professional development for educators. The budget I proposed this year goes even farther, increasing this investment tenfold to $251.2 million. It also continues tutoring and other special supports through MI Kids Back on Track, a program that is closing post-pandemic learning gaps.

We closed the funding gap between schools and brought per student funding to an all-time high 5 years in a row, leveling the playing field for previously underfunded schools in Black communities and providing better textbooks, sports equipment, and smaller class sizes. With the help of Biden administration programs, we made school meals free for all 1.4 million public school students—so they can focus on reading and learning without worrying about an empty stomach.

We also invested $40 million in last year’s budget to help adults learn to read and get their GEDs, setting them up for college and skills training. This will help close the racial unemployment gap, helping more Black Michiganders get better-paying, high-skill jobs.

I’m proud of these investments addressing racial equity gaps in literacy. But we know there is more work to do, and we all have a role to play. I heard about one parent who set up her own book fair, putting books in the hands of 80 students who otherwise wouldn’t have them. We can all celebrate March is Reading Month by reading books with our kids and families, including those by Michigan authors like Kai Harris or Alice Randall. Let’s keep working to give every Michigander a book and the power not just to read it but to open doors to opportunity and a brighter future.

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