Report: School funding and clean water top Michiganders’ concerns

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Ryan Jackson will be watching what Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposes in her first budget on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old Detroit resident says that Michigan’s crumbling roads are a big problem for her.

Detroit resident Ryan Jackson | Ken Coleman

“I travel to work every day and that is a pain,” she told the Advance. “It’s always the anxiety of: Am I going to hit something? Am I going to get a flat [tire] that’s going to make me late for work?”

Jackson added that she agrees with the governor’s other budget centerpiece priority of improving education and closing the skills gap.

Jackson’s concerns are in line with findings of a new report by For Our Future-Michigan (FOF), although she wasn’t interviewed for the project. The progressive nonprofit launched the effort last May to hear directly from the public about the issues that mattered most to them and their neighbors.

The top issues statewide were schools and water, followed by infrastructure.

Potholes in Haslett | Susan J. Demas

To gather data, FOF used a “feedback loop,” a tool designed to combine everything into a comprehensive report that could be used to inform future language on doors, phones, and in mail pieces, said Josh Pugh, FOF-Michigan communications director. Open-ended listening scripts allowed canvassers to engage with people and “tease out” the issues that impacted their day-to-day lives.

FOF carried out 94,066 conversations and made 821,000 attempts through door knocks and phone calls. It covered the following counties: Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Genesee, Washtenaw, Jackson, Ingham, Eaton, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Kent and Muskegon.

The data presented regional differences. The Flint region, for example, cared most about clean water and economic insecurity. Meanwhile, Detroit voters focused on auto insurance and education funding.

Gretchen Whitmer

A common statewide theme was that that public schools play an important role in building communities. More funding was the biggest focus for people who identified education as their top issue. And many people talked about teachers when discussing the need for funding increases.

As the Advance reported on Monday, Whitmer’s budget will include a $507 million education funding hike. Whitmer’s administration said it’s the largest increase in classroom spending in 18 years, not counting funding for retirement costs.

Jackson, who attended Renaissance High School — one of the city’s highest-performing institutions — says more resources are critical.

“We didn’t have enough books, so you didn’t take those home,” she recalled. “You could take certain books home. So when I went away to school at Purdue University to study pharmacy, I didn’t feel prepared because our Chemistry books were outdated and we were using Bunsen Burners that were probably older than us.”  

Jackson later earned a bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University.

Josh Pugh

FOF is part of a national organization that was founded in 2016. It ran a $60 million ground game operation in several battleground states — Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Wisconsin, Virginia and Michigan — aimed at boosting turnout for progressive candidates up and down the ballot.

It has formed 170 partnerships with local grassroots organizations, as well as millennial, African-American, Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander American, Native American, Muslim, LGBTQ, faith, and veteran communities.

“We absolutely intend to put these findings to work over the coming weeks and months and hope that elected leaders on both sides of the aisle are willing to go to work for their constituents,” Pugh said.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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