Lt. Gov. Calley visits the Copper Country

HOUGHTON – Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley talked about issues ranging from mental health treatment in the state to education during a visit to The Daily Mining Gazette Friday.

Calley came to Houghton to announce Michigan’s new federal Employment Based Immigration: Fifth Preference (EB-5) program for immigrant entrepreneurs (see related story). He also hosted a business roundtable at GS Engineering where he and local business owners talked about changes in state policy and got feedback on potential paths of action.

“We’re definitely on an upswing, where we have employment growth and economic growth and income growth in most places in our state,” he said.

There were suggestions for improvement, such as from forest industry members who talked about the difficulty in securing raw materials.

“The state is a large landowner,” Calley said. “To the extent that we’ve been working over the course of the last few years to develop better forestry management plans, there could be economic opportunity that comes out of that.”

One of Calley’s busiest areas as lieutenant governor has been on mental health issues. Last year, he signed a package of bills expanding the state’s education system.

The goal was to create an avenue for local court systems to treat someone with a mental illness as opposing to locking them up. Four communities, including Marquette, were also selected for pilot programs to try new approaches.

Calley compared it to the drug court programs in the state, such as the one Houghton County launched last year. He expects it to yield “very high results.”

“We’re still on the front end of it, but the idea is that whether it’s first contact of law enforcement with somebody, all the way through to release from jail if there’s jail time served, that when people have mental illnesses or developmental disabilities, that we need to make better decisions in every single step of the process to help solve the problem, as opposed to just approaching it from a punishment standpoint,” he said.

Calley also spoke positively about the $15.8 billion budget for education Gov. Rick Snyder signed this month, which has a per-pupil increase of between $50 and $175 per student. The state funding for education is $1.1 billion above the amount the state provided in 2011.

“It goes further than any budget I’ve seen since I’ve been involved to close the gap between the highest-funded schools and the lowest-funded schools receive,” Calley said. “Those that are on the lowest foundation grant amount, they get three-and-a-half times more of an increase than those at the top.”

The most important education achievement the state has made recently is an investment in early childhood education, which Calley said is intended to give every child an chance at quality preschool education regardless of their ability to pay.

A Detroit Free Press series on charter schools showed many of the schools showed little transparency or accountability, while 40 percent ranked by the state are low-performing.

Calley said the same standards for accountability and success need to be applied to both charter and public schools.

“Either way, it’s critically important that each school do whatever it takes to make sure that the kids going to that school achieve growth in the important subject matters,” he said.

He also pointed to a report referenced in one of the Free Press articles that compared state test scores for elementary and middle school charter students to those of their peers in the same area, rather than to a statewide average. The report showed those charter students achieved two more months of growth than comparable public school students.

“That’s not to say charter schools are better, per se, it’s just to say that for some kids, it’s the better option,” he said.

So far in Gov. Snyder’s re-election campaign, Calley said he’s seeing more optimism about the state’s future. He cited several markers – 278,000 private-sector jobs created in the past three years, personal income growth and his favorite, population growth.

“When we had that lost decade, and we had a whole generation that had to leave to find opportunity, it wasn’t because they wanted to leave Michigan, it was because they couldn’t find the right career, they couldn’t make a living here,” he said. “As we see population growth, that means that’s turning around.”

Calley said he is not yet thinking about plans for what to do after his tenure as lieutenant governor ends, whether next year or 2019.

“I don’t look anywhere beyond the next election,” he said. “I don’t think we can afford to be focused on things that are outside of what matters right now to our people. I’m focused on being a good partner to Rick Snyder, and creating an environment for job growth here in our state. The future will tend to itself.”