I’ve had a few days now to mull over the goings-on at last week’s annual Mackinac Island Policy Conference.
Much of the talk on the enormous porch of the magnificent Grand Hotel was how our political system seems incapable of dealing with big subjects on which (mostly) right-wing Republican lawmakers seem unable to get behind their Republican governor, Rick Snyder:
Medicaid extension (scorned because it reeks of Obamacare) more money for roads and bridges (ducked because it entails raising taxes) and Common Core Curriculum standards in education (rejected because they allegedly violate notions of state sovereignty).
Many people I talked with at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual confab voiced the opinion that our politics, both in Lansing and in Washington, are deadlocked because they are driven by extreme ideologues of both the right and the left.
“We’ve got extremist whack jobs running things,” a lawmaker told me, explaining that many GOP House members are terrified of being “primaried” by Tea Party-backed insurgents and feel the need to avoid this by proving how right-wing they are.
But there is one big exception. The day before the conference opened, the Legislature adopted and sent to the governor for signature an education budget that included a historic, nation-leading expansion of the state’s preschool program, the Great Start Readiness Program (GSRP). If all goes as planned, over the next two years, state support for GSRP will be more than doubled.
That means thousands of poor and vulnerable 4-year-olds now denied places will get the help they need to succeed in school. This is a heart-warming achievement, largely brought about by the coming together of what might be called a “sanity caucus” in Lansing.
First, Gov. Snyder and his education leaders recognized that early childhood programs are essentially the only way to improve school performance for poor and disadvantaged kids. As Mike Flanagan, state superintendent of education, keeps saying, “the only way for Michigan to meet universal third-grade reading skills is to make preschool programs available to everybody who needs them.”