Dean Elizabeth Moje was a guest on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to discuss educational equity in response to possible statewide educational cuts that have been deliberated simultaneously alongside a newly-unveiled Lansing lawmakers’ plan to re-open schools with a possible $1.3 billion in federal funding.
The new plan would include an $800 per-pupil increase to address costs related to COVID-19, but the plan is unfolding amid concerns that Michigan’s school aid fund is facing a billion-dollar shortfall due to the pandemic.
Moje was joined by Amber Arellano, founding executive director of The Education Trust–Midwest, an organization that has recently highlighted the importance of equitable cuts in light of the shortfall. Arellano states that there is about a 99% chance that the state is going to face significant cuts.
With the newly proposed plan sitting in juxtaposition to the recent Education Trust report, Henderson and his guests explained that Michigan is one of the least equitably funded states with great gaps in access and resources that vary widely by community. While both Moje and Arellano were in favor of equitable cuts as needed, they also responded to the Lansing legislators’ proposal to re-open school buildings this fall that relies on over $1 billion in federal dollars.
“Regardless of the particulars of any plan, we need to think about how we are going to support our teachers to ensure they have the different kinds of practices they need and the time they need to do the work,” Moje said.
Callers to the show included teachers who expressed concern about meeting all of their students’ diverse learning, safety, emotional needs. A mother who called the show was worried about the safety of teachers and principals, as well as the ability of students to stay caught up. Moje agreed that teachers’ needs were harrowing, especially if they go back into schools without necessary equipment and support. “To not have nurses and counselors is a challenge that many public school districts have faced for 10–20 years,” she said. This is a very different type of teaching now, she added, which requires some attention to healthcare needs from trained providers.
Arellano added that disinvested public education in Michigan—a state with one of the least fair funding practices, especially when it comes to children of color—adds complications. “Public education should be an engine for opportunity—not just for kids, but for our democracy and the future of our state,” she said. This is not a partisan issue, she added, but rather a moment for leadership. She called for flexibility when it comes to local leadership in addition to state leadership, since the pandemic spikes can vary greatly within regions. “We need both a focus on safety and on quality instruction,” she noted, “whether that’s in-person or virtual.”
As an education expert, and a participant in the team making the plan to help re-open U-M, Moje was asked about the plans for re-opening the U-M campus. She explained that plans relied on hybridization and a focus on new instructional arrangements that fostered a high-quality learning environment, even though “there’s something that’s lost when we’re not in person.”