FINCH: Rural voice
By Curt Finch
One of the biggest battles our small schools struggle with every day is how to accomplish the same reporting, supervision and monitoring requirements as larger districts without the same financial support and personnel.
In America, almost 60 percent of the schools have 1,500 students or less; they are usually rural in location as well, miles from resources suburban and urban schools take for granted. Yes, the urban and suburban school systems’ problems are different, but rural schools also typically fight declining enrollment, declining tax-base, and a transient population. Our current economy has only exacerbated these problems in rural Michigan.
This summer, the State Board of Education is going to be choosing the next leader of our state educational system, the state superintendent. Our current superintendent, Mike Flanagan, comes from a suburban and urban background. Most of the previous state superintendents came from the political world, with suburban and urban experience. The state superintendent is charged with shaping educational policy, encouraging legislators to move in a direction that benefits all students and directing the state’s educational support systems. The current State Board of Education also comes from the suburban and urban world, mainly the southeast corner of the state. For years, our own Evart School Board member, Carolyn Curtin, served on the State Board, but that lone rural voice was lost when she retired.
It also is not news to you that legislators, both in Michigan and the U.S. Congress, thrive on developing systems that impact the most students, often designing regulations and policies that end up only supporting suburban and urban centers even though a majority of the schools in America are smaller and rural! Currently, Michigan’s northern legislators are all of the same party and tend to vote together, helping to slow some of the erroneous policies and their implementation, but they are still are out-numbered significantly. The “one-size-fits-all” policy is usually easier to pass, but always harder to implement in the rural setting.
Since all of the State Board of Education’s “power” is currently concentrated in the southeast corner of the state, selection of a rural superintendent won’t even be entertained. Perhaps a different system of State Board member selection needs to be moved to the front. A couple of years ago, Gov. Snyder entertained the idea of changing the selection process for the State Board of Education to be done by region to help address the lack of a rural voice in our state on educational items. Of course, the southeast corner ultimately rejected the idea, so we went back to the status quo. Perhaps it is time for a united voice from the under-served northern Michigan population to speak up against “education without representation.” Contact your legislator and ask for the Governor’s idea to be brought back – select our State Board of Education by region and allow the rural voice to have input.
Dr. Finch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @CFinchMOISD .