LANSING, Mich. (WZMQ) – U.P. Superintendents are advocating for the needs of rural school districts. A group of 15 Superintendents from around the state attended the House Education Committee meeting this morning to bring awareness to some of the issues faced in their districts.
The group of educators discussed facing staff shortages, difficulties applying for grants and funding, and increasing costs of transportation. Dr. Gregory Nyen from the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Services Agency was one of four speakers who presented to the committee at the meeting.
“The majority of legislation in years past has been driven by urban and suburban needs,” Dr. Nyen said. “That doesn’t always work in rural Michigan, and so we’re here today advocating for a rural policy lens.”
U.P. Representative from the 110th district, Greg Markkanen, sits on the House Education Committee and is a former teacher. He says he knows firsthand the challenges U.P. educators face.
“In these small school districts, one person is doing a multitude of jobs and that makes it very difficult to teach.” Representative Markkanen explained. “I know in my district, there’s Superintendents that are doing a Principal job and a Special Ed supervisor job, and driving bus, and doing this, and doing that. It’s really overloading people.”
Representative Markkanen said it’s important to him that they take what was discussed and find solutions to recruitment and retention efforts to address the major shortages of staff in rural school districts.
“I think the education committee, and the House, and the Senate have some real challenges ahead, keeping Michigan public schools competitive,” Representative Markkanen said. “And I think we’re up to the challenge.”
He says on top of the issues seen in most rural districts, the U.P. also faces unique issues with broadband connections and transportation that need to see their own unique solutions.
“Teaching public school in the U.P. is much different than they are in southeast or southwest Michigan,” Representative Markkanen said. “There’s different challenges but we still have the same students.”
Dr. Nyen explained that while 80% of Michigan’s school districts are rural, those districts only account for 20% of the state’s student population
“We don’t want the quality of an education to be determined by a student’s zip code,” Dr. Nyen said. “We believe advocacy is the way to get that job done.”
Dr. Nyen said that he hopes today’s meetings will allow them to start and continue conversations that will lead to solutions for schools in the U.P. Representative Markkanen said he hopes the committee continues listening to rural districts as they create legislation to better fit all Michigan schools.