A college football analyst, a former state lawmaker, a restaurant server in college and a mining law attorney are the leading candidates among 11 hopefuls running for Michigan’s State Board of Education.
Two Republicans, two Democrats, two Libertarians, two Working Class Party members, two U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan members and one Green Party member are vying for two eight-year seats on the statewide board. The two seats are open because Democrats Lupe Ramos-Montigny of Grand Rapids and Michelle Fecteau of Detroit decided not to run for reelection.
The board is led by six Democrats with two Republicans.
Former state Supt. Mike Flanagan, who served from 2005 to 2015, said the presence of 11 candidates shows how much interest has grown in public education.
“I think parents are struggling and they are hearing it,” Flanagan said of the candidates. “So you are getting more interest in education in general because of the pandemic and really the very different landscapes out there. There are districts next to each other that can have dramatically different approaches, and I think that causes tension.”
The eight member board, which appointed a new superintendent, Michael Rice in 2019, is charged with improving public education for 1.5 million children through recommendations and actions. It has no enforcement powers.
When Michigan’s K-12 schools shut down in March and conflicting statements about schoolwork counting came out during the pandemic, people began to question who was actually in charge of public education, said Tom Watkins, state superintendent from 2001 to 2005.
In 2019, the board approved new social studies standards, which generated controversy statewide and nationally. The standards now include more examples and references to the roles women, minority organizations, Muslims and African Americans played in history.
As the state continues to grapple with COVID-19, many challenges to K-12 schools and students remain unresolved, including a lack of connectivity across the state for remote learning, special education students who continue to lack legally required services and the continued need for food and emotional support services for all students.
Ellen Cogen Lipton (Photo: Ellen Cogen Lipton)
Lipton, 53, of Huntington Woods said she wants to move the school funding model to one that is “adequate and equitable” and de-emphasize the use of high-stakes standardized tests to rank students, teachers and schools.
“Education in Michigan is at a critical juncture. The global pandemic has uncovered a number of structural problems, but I think the State Board of Education can play an important role in addressing these issues,” said Lipton, who is a patent attorney and former three-term member of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Jason Strayhorn, 44, of Novi said he would bring representation and equity to the board to create understanding and fulfill the needs of all the children in Michigan.
“The board needs to be transparent and honest about the situation we are in,” said Strayhorn,a real estate agent and Fox Sports analyst on Michigan State University football. “We need to help school districts with equitable resources and, most importantly, we need to help those districts and students that do not have access to or have limited access to technology, including Wifi, computers and white boards.”
Tami Carlone, 53, of Novi is a certified public account who owns her own business and is an education activist who argues that children’s rights are under attack during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our children need to be in the classroom learning. The negative effects of being at home and in front of a screen instead are profound, especially for young and special-needs children,” Carlone said. “Sick children and adults that are at risk should stay home.”
Michelle Frederick, 47, of White Lake Township said she is concerned about excessive testing in schools and the adoption of the Common Core state standards, which she blames for reduced grade-level reading. Frederick said she became a special-needs advocate when one of her children needed services as a toddler.
“The immediate changes I would call for would be for parent to have a choice between distance learning and face-to-face learning,” Frederick said. “While I respect the fact that some parents are afraid to have their child attend school for face-to-face learning, whether the fear is that of the virus … this needs to be an option.”
Bill Hall, 64, Courtland Township is a Libertarian who said he has experience serving on nonprofit boards and would be an independent voice on a board “riven by partisan politics.”
“Competition from schools of choice, charter and private schools and home schooling pushes traditional public schools to innovate and better educate, and saves taxpayer dollars,” said Hall, a commercial real estate and mining law attorney who is a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd. “Let poorly performing schools fail rather than bailing them out, and make sure there are plenty of schools of choice, charter and private school alternatives for parents to choose from when they do fail.”
Mary Anne Hering
Mary Anne Hering, 71, of Dearborn is with the Working Class Party and is a former faculty adviser to Henry Ford College’s student newspaper. She said there needs to be an end to subsidizing corporations and real estate developers through tax breaks and subsidies so money can be put into public education, something that could only be done through legislation.
“Someone has to be shouting from the rooftops that what is needed is a tidal wave of money for children, teachers and other school employees to get back to in-school and safely,” Hering said. “And the money is there, in the state, for high levels of funding for every school to be excellent academically and safe.”
Richard A. Hewer, 78, of Big Rapids is a Libertarian and a teacher in computer information systems who taught dual enrollment classes for high schools. He aso wants to work to increase dual enrollment through class offerings.
“The state needs to quit forcing kids to go to failing schools and then pay millions because the government failed them,” Hewer said.
Hali McEachern, 24, of Dearborn is also with the Working Class Party and wants to enhance student learning by enriching students’ environments and improve the working conditions of educators.
“To enhance student learning, classrooms need to have less students. As for resources, I know that art, music, gym and science experiments are essential to learning and development. I know the resources are there to provide every student with every resource they need,” said McEachern, a restaurant server for eight years and a college student.
Green Party member Tom Mair, 65, of Traverse City wants to change the political make-up of the dominant two-party system and represent rural northern Michigan. He wants more federal funding for schools, free health care for students and for internet providers to give free internet devices to students to address the digital divide.
“Locally, I have experienced bipartisan support because no one from Northern Michigan runs for State Board of Education,” said Mair, who has worked in arts management and is a former federal transportation worker.
Candidates Karen Adams and Douglas Levesque, both of the U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan, did not respond to requests for comment.
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