By JEREMY WAHR
Capital News Service
LANSING — A bill that would require funding for outside tutors in elementary and middle schools is unlikely to pass, but the group will continue to receive funding from the state on a year-by-year basis.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, would have guaranteed an unspecified amount of funding to reading and mathematics instructors from the Michigan Education Corps, an initiative that uses tutors to help struggling students.
The bill passed without opposition by the Senate, but it is unlikely to see further action, said Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw, who chairs the House Education Reform Committee where it was sent. The program already receives appropriations and it doesn’t need to be put into law, Kelly said.
The Education Corps is a group of trained professionals who assist teachers, Hansen said. They already receive some state funding — $2.5 million in 2017 — through regular appropriations.
The bill would ensure the program receives funding, regardless of how the incoming Legislature decides to appropriate funds. Although Hansen said he expects that funding to continue, his bill would take away the need for an annual appropriation.
“I’ve seen the results, and the help the Corps can provide,” Hansen said. “We’ve got schools in Muskegon using these programs, and they’ve really helped the kids over there.”
The Education Corps was allocated $1 million in 2015 and 2016, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.
This bill would also ensure that schools that use the Education Corps services meet the standards that the Corps sets, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency. If schools don’t abide by the standards, they won’t receive the services.
The Michigan Education Corps, based in Grand Rapids, is modeled after the Minnesota Education Corps, said Holly Windram, the group’s executive director. Michigan is one of the 14 states participating in Education Corps programs.
Education Corps programs include a preschool reading corps, a kindergarten-to-grade-three reading corps and a fourth-through-eighth-grade math corps.
The kindergarten-to-grade-three reading corps tutor students to better understand phonics and to become more fluent in the English language. The tutors use common teaching methods, like group reading and comprehension questions. These methods are used in smaller settings, so struggling students will be able to receive specialized attention.
The Education Corps is part of the state’s plan to increase early literacy. The state requires holding back third graders who can’t read, starting in 2020.
Students tutored by the Education Corps have high rates of success. The percent of Michigan students being tutored by the kindergarten-to-grade-three reading corps who are at or above the standard for their grade level is 84 percent of kindergartners, 67 percent of first graders, 60 percent of second graders and 76 percent of third graders, Windram said.
Although having assistant educators is useful, the program can’t replace the work that full-time teachers do, said Doug Pratt, director of public affairs for the Michigan Education Association. Smaller class sizes and better access to teachers would be more effective ways of helping students, he said.
“This program is supportive in nature, so it’s an added benefit for students,” Pratt said. “But the real solutions are greater investments in the classroom.”
Although the pending bill would have solidified funding for the Education Corps, it would have not been enough to properly fund the Corps and improve the literacy of all of Michigan’s schoolchildren, Windram said.
“If we receive more money, we can help more kids,” Windram said. “But it isn’t just a funding issue. If the state gave us an infinite amount of money, we still wouldn’t be able to reach every student in the state by next fall. That’s simply not possible.”