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How many Michigan lawmakers have kids enrolled in traditional public schools?

Apr 1, 2015

Jeff Salisbury asked us this question as part of our M I Curious news experiment. It's where you ask a question, questions are put to a vote, and we investigate the question with the most votes. 

When I asked Salisbury why he asked this question, he said, "I come by my motivation through my avocation."

Salisbury spent nearly 30 years as a teacher, the final 25 at Wayland Union High School. Half that time he was a union leader, and more recently he served on the area school board.

In recent years, the state Legislature passed several laws that have changed how schools operate, and Salisbury says he's been trying to figure out what motivates these lawmakers. 

"I think there's a lot of passion when it comes to educational legislation," said Salisbury. "There seems to be emotion attached to both sides of issues when it comes to recent changes to school law. And that passion is borne out of something. Is it borne out of being intimately connected to traditional public schools? Or is it connected to something else? And this is, I think, one way to point toward that answer."

Popular question

It turns out, Jeff wasn't the only one who wanted to know the answer to this question. Once we posted it in a voting round, the votes and comments came pouring in.

Here's a sample of some of those comments:

"What a great question - this is often brought up during discussions about education, testing, and legislative action. It would enhance the dialogue if this question had an answer!" - Shirley Russell

"This is a very important question, especially in a time when so many legislative mandates are interfering with teachers' professional lives..." - Nancy Patterson

"I think the reason the question resonates with so many is that we wonder whether those who 'make the rules' are invested in or have a real stake in our traditional public schools..." - Martha Toth

"If these are the people legislating the lives of Michigan's teachers and students, they should have some current experience with the conditions and concerns of actual public schools. If they don't, they need to put current teachers and parents on the committees as advisers." - Gloria David

So people clearly want to know more about the representatives who make our laws.

This type of thing has been done before. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy did it back in 2000, and the Heritage Foundation did the same thing for members of Congress in 2003. Both groups were advocating for more school choice legislation back then.

Contacting all 148 lawmakers

We split the work up among our staff. First, we sent a simple survey. If we didn't hear from the lawmakers, we followed up with phone calls and e-mails.

Around 80% of the lawmakers responded to us. The rest, after repeated attempts, declined to answer the questions.

Of those who responded, here's what we found out:

  • 75% do not have school-aged kids (kids old enough to attend K-12 schools)

That trend is even stronger when it comes to leadership in the Legislature:

  • 86% of the committee chairmanships are occupied by lawmakers who do not have school-aged kids.

Of those 28 lawmakers who responded that they did have school-aged kids:

  • 22 send their kids to traditional public schools,
  • 3 sent their kids to private or parochial schools,
  • 2 send them to charter schools,
  • and 1 home schools their kids.

The lawmakers themselves are largely a product of traditional public schools:

  • 76% went exclusively to traditional public schools,
  • 12% went to private or parochial schools,
  • 11% went to both public and private,
  • and one lawmaker was homeschooled.

You can check out the raw numbers in this interactive infographic.

And below, we break out the answers we received by each State House and Senate district.

Click "visible layers" to change the information highlighted in the maps.

State House

State Senate

Comments from lawmakers

So, based on all that red you see above, 75% of Michigan's lawmakers don't have kids in K-12 schools. Some lawmakers let us know they once had school-aged kids who attended either public or private schools, but those kids have grown up. Others just don't have kids.

Our survey allowed lawmakers to leave comments. Here are some of the thoughts they shared with us:

"My oldest attended first grade at a local private Catholic school (18 years ago). I was not happy with the class size, limited resources and cost, so I investigated our public school district. I discovered just how valuable a strong public education system is to a community and its families. I have been an active member ever since." - Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills

"I am a big believer and supporter of our traditional public school system.I live in Lansing and my children attend elementary school in the Lansing School District (3rd and 5th grades). While Lansing Schools have some challenges, my children are receiving an exemplary education in these schools." - Rep. Andy Schor, D-Lansing

"My son and daughter attended Byron Center Public Schools ... I taught at Byron Center Public High School for 37 years. I support parents being able to decide where their children can best be educated, whether it be in traditional public, charter school, private or parochial or home schooling." - Rep. Tom Hooker, R-Byron Center

"The North Central Academy was the best fit for my children's educational needs. The School was very close to home. It offers family and leadership values to coincide with our lives at home. The IVL program was also an important consideration." - Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona

So is this information helpful?

"I think it does give us something of a prescription or a formula of how to assess lawmakers."

Jeff Salisbury, the retired teacher who originally asked the question says, "yes."

"I think it does give us something of a prescription or a formula of how to assess lawmakers -- if not their intent -- something that’s an overriding principle, or set of principals that’s guiding them that’s different than those of us who are professional or were professional educators," he said.

You can hear our conversation about this survey on today's Stateside:

If you have a question for our M I Curious project, go here!