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    E: This interview is with Ed Sarpolus who is the director of Governmental Affairs at the MEA. Can you tell us a little bit about your job here at the MEA and a little about yourself?

    S: Part of our role is dealing with the legislature on policy, and so as legislation is proposed, we see is it good for public education? Is it bad for public education? Do we try to basically change the legislation, stop the legislation or try to introduce new legislation that is better? That is the main function of the government affairs. We are involved in the election process, assuring that the people who are getting elected are supportive of pubic education. We inform our members what are candidates voting records history are.

    .

    My background includes a lot of work in K-12 education. I have worked on mileages and bond races. I was also involved in the hearings on drop outs, why kids drop out of school? I have done additional research on why kids do not go to college? Why do they stay in college? There is a lot of research we have done with kids in school and education. I have done about 25 years of educational research.

    E: Something that has recently came up in the legislator is the pension plan that the MEA is in great favor of, is there anything you can comment on regarding that proposal?

    S: Back in the 80s we had a similar economic crisis and we lost nearly 10,000 teachers out of the system, so thirty years later we are lacking a group of leaders at the middle school level and high school level because they lost their jobs. Now, schools are laying off a lot of teachers, staff and bus drivers. The school state aid fund may have a $400 million deficit next year. We are faced with a major loss of money to K-12 education. That is a problem because if you lost teachers schools cannot operate and kids are put at risk in competing in the global economy. We can not raise taxes and the one thing we can do is there are 77,000 people in education who can retire but have chosen to not retire.  Student graduating from college can not find jobs in education. People who have young families who have to leave the state to find jobs. In the 1990s there were states who had teacher retire early and that worked well. If we gave inventive for people to retire what would that savings be to the state?  If 10% of those who could retire actually do retire, that means that next year, the schools would save about  $400 million. 

    E: The Governor recently mentioned her new program idea of "Algebra for All" what does the MEA advocate for with respects to that program?

    S: Well the problem is with funding, there is a name for the program but no way of funding it. It sounds good, it is good, we are hoping that programs like this do get funded. One of the problems that we have with the new curriculum is that  we started with the top and worked down. We are expecting people who have had  eight years of schooling are ready for the new curriculum standards at the high school level, but they are not. We think it should have been started at the younger years and worked its way up.

    E: What about the school high school initiatives, how does the MEA feel about the switch to smaller high schools?

    S: The question is how do you do this? The lack of funding, the proposals that are passed in to law there is no funding. When you have new buildings you have to fund the electricity, heat and etc.

    E: The 10 promise zones just passed in January, do you have any idea of the schools that are likely to take advantage?

    S:  Well the schools have to apply and if your school does not succeed you have to give the money back. Also you have to find matching funds. Those districts who apply are willing to take the risk. We will work for the districts that do succeed in funding matching funds because that is key.

    E: Can you give our users an insight into what types of things the MEA is doing right now?

    S: Well the drop out hearings, if you reduce drop outs by 10 % you reduce prison costs by $300-500 million per year. Many who are in prison did not get past the eighth grade. We are very concerned about early childhood. Also professional training for teachers, many teachers have the book learning but they do not have experience. Accountability, we feel that schools need to follow through on turning schools around. Our focus now is on policy that is focused on the kids.

    E: Is there any legislation that is going to be coming up this next session that concerns the MEA?

    S: With limited funds, incoming charters that are coming in divert funds away from public schools. We are concerned about "cherry-picking" We believe in innovation, but it has to be done in a way that we do not leave children behind or with a burden, so that is a big concern. Additionally this session there will be some talk about the merit curriculum especially with the math. There is the potential that 20% of the kids in 10th grade right now will not graduate from high school because they did not meet the Algebra 1 and 2.

    E: Thank you for taking the time to go over the concerns and outline of what the MEA works on. 


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    About Us

    The Michigan Policy Network is a student-led public education and research program to report and organize news and information about the political process surrounding Michigan state policy issues. It is run out of the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University, with participation by students from the College of Social Science, the College of Communication, and James Madison College. 

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    Meet your Policy Fellow: Andy Chou and Andrew Revard

    Andy Chou and Andrew Revard are Education Policy Correspondents for the Michigan Policy Network. Andy is a first-year student in Economics at Michigan State University. Andrew is a senior in Political Science at MSU.