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New state department will focus on preschool through higher education

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order Wednesday to create a new state department focused on pre-school, higher education and career readiness.

The new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement and Potential — or MiLEAP — will become part of the cabinet on December 1. Its mission is to meet the governor’s twin goals of universal access to early childhood education — as well as boosting the number of working adult Michiganders with a college degree or professional certification.

“For too long, we have thought of education as K-12, but we know that’s not good enough,” Whitmer said in a written statement released by her office.

She said the goal is to marshal resources to make pre-school more widely available and for 60 percent of working-age Michiganders to have a professional certification or college degree by the end of the decade.

“I’m establishing MiLEAP today because we need to get every kid started early, in pre-K, so they succeed in kindergarten, have paths after graduation to get higher education tuition-free, and forge strong partnerships with our employers so they can get a good-paying, high-skill, and in-demand jobs,” she said.

The new department will take over some responsibilities from the Michigan Department of Education, which does not report to the governor but is supervised by the elected Michigan State Board of Education, and some other state departments and agencies.

The Michigan Constitution gives the governor broad power to re-organize the executive branch. That includes being able to create new state departments and agencies.

Republicans responded to the order by saying a new education bureaucracy won’t fix the problems facing Michigan’s schools.

“More government does not fix bad government,” said Senate Minority Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Porter Twp.) in a written statement. “I believe the people of Michigan would prefer our governor focus more on ensuring children can read and less on scaling back education accountability standards and creating more government bureaucracy.”

The Legislature can reject executive orders. But that is unlikely since it takes super-majorities of the House and the Senate, which are both controlled by Democrats.

“I’m encouraged by this strategic move as we take steps toward a universal Pre-K system in Michigan and make other improvements that will allow every child to reach their full potential and succeed in the future,” said Senator Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), who chairs the Senate Pre-K-through-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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