Eight elected officials oversee Michigan’s education department — four Democrats and four Republicans.
Tuesday’s voting could break the ideological deadlock, just one more reason that the race for Michigan Board of Education is the most important one you’ve never heard of.
Over their eight-year terms, the influence of the winning candidates will be felt in decisions about school closures (Democrats oppose them), school funding (Republicans say there’s enough), third-grade reading (Republicans say holding back a slow reader is beneficial), and the statewide learning standards that help shape curriculums in districts across the state (Democrats are against the proposed elimination of mentions of gay rights and climate change.)
The candidates hew closely to the party line on critical education issues, and there’s little question that the board would take a partisan turn if the stalemate is broken. Candidates from both parties pulled in political donations from partisan groups, with Judy Pritchett, a Democrat, drawing more than $12,000 from teachers unions.
That’s one takeaway from our survey of seven candidates for two open seats on the board tasked with overseeing the state education department. Eleven candidates are running, including four from the major parties and seven from third parties, four of whom did not respond to our request to fill out the survey.
There are a few exceptions to the partisan rule. Take Republican Richard Zeile’s comment that cyber schools, which have generally been backed by the GOP, should take a hefty funding cut from the state. “Cyber schools provide instruction but not supervision, only half of what brick-and-mortar schools provide, and the tuition reimbursement for these programs ought to reflect this,” he said.
And even when the candidates’ views align, each one brings different experiences and areas of expertise to the table, qualities that rise to the surface in their survey responses.
Scroll down to see how the candidates would approach the most pressing education questions facing the state. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity, concision, grammar, and syntax.
To see one candidate’s responses, type their name into the search bar or click on all of the other candidates’ names.