Michigan Education Reform Starts With HB 4552

A recent editorial in The Detroit News couldn't make it clearer. Michigan's education system needs reforming, and the business community must play a leading role in creating the change Michigan needs. That's the message that will be made, time and time again, as Michigan's policy leaders head to Mackinac Island to set the course for our state's future.

Thanks to some forward thinking legislators, the future is already here. House Bill 4552 was created after Michigan business leaders told legislators they had good paying jobs, especially in skilled trades and manufacturing, but couldn't find enough workers. One of the keys to keeping this sector of Michigan's economy strong, they said, is to make sure school counselors know about the current career and college options available to Michigan students, especially the career opportunities that don't require four years of college. In sharing this information with students and families, counselors will help students better understand the full menu of choices that await them after high school, and help them find one that meets their individual talents, interests and needs.

The idea behind the bill is simple. If students have a better understanding of the exciting possibilities that await them after high school, they'll be motivated to do better work in high school. That's why the bill is supported by businesses, skilled trade workers, retired military personnel, and law enforcement officers. Just like school counselors, they know that students with a goal are more motivated to succeed, and are more likely to succeed as a result.

The goal of House Bill 4552 is to help students, but they aren't the only winners in this bill. Michigan employers who are now forced to look out of state and overseas to meet their talent needs will now be able to offer internships, on the job training, and even training scholarships to Michigan students. That's what happened when a group of Michigan school counselors visited a plant last year, where they learned of an owner's desire to help pay for the training of students who would be interested in coming to work for him. Students wouldn't know about that chance if it weren't for the counselors, and the counselors wouldn't know about that chance if it weren't for the tour. That's effective professional development.

The bill also helps school counselors, who desperately need relief from the largest single challenge of their work--being overwhelmed. Too many students, too many duties unrelated to counseling, and too much teacher-based professional development makes it easy for school counselors to feel they aren't given the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their students. House Bill 4552 modifies counselors' current professional development requirements by focusing part of their activities on staying current with career and counseling trends, the kind of information counselors say they need, and the kind surveys say parents and students want. The bill doesn't require more time from counselors; it gives them the freedom to make better use of the time they already spend on learning how to best serve their students.

House Bill 4552 has passed the State House with bipartisan support, and is now before the Senate Education Committee. Chaired by Senator Phil Pavlov, the committee has already shown an interest in moving Michigan's education landscape to a model that is more student-centered and responsive to local needs. Sending this bill to the Senate floor right after Mackinac would send a powerful message of leadership to all Michigan policy makers, all at no additional cost to taxpayers. It's nice to talk about education reform, but passing House Bill 4552 before the June recess offers a rare chance at setting the tone of business-education partnership Michigan wants, and needs.