Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > How Gen Z is Changing the Game From Strategy to Policy

How Gen Z is Changing the Game From Strategy to Policy

May 31, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Equitable school funding is desperately needed to stem the tide of outgoing talent. This includes weighted funding and investment in teachers and out-of-school programs.
  • Generation Z students, activists, and legislators must be part of the conversation from the ground up, working in direct partnership with government, administrators, and parents to have their needs addressed.
  • Intersectionality, infrastructure, equity, and non-transactional spaces are the most important issues for Gen Z members right now when it comes to educational priorities.

Michigan policymakers are facing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change education, as pandemic-era dollars fade away and policymakers take a hard look at how to fund schools. This was the subject of the panel “How Gen Z is Changing the Game from Strategy to Policy,” at the Mackinac Policy Conference on Wednesday, May 31.

Moderator Angelique Power, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Skillman Foundation, interviewed government and nonprofit leaders about what is most important to them and how to improve Michigan’s educational system with the input of the people most affected by it.

The legislature’s recent proposal of $150 million for mental health programs and $50 million for out-of-school programs for students are good first steps, agreed Michigan Speaker of the House Joe Tate. “There has to be an all-hands-on-deck approach,” he says. “It’s about how we agree on what is a problem and how do we direct our resources towards that.”

Central to that is putting teachers, students, and parents in the same room to find solutions that are practical and immediate. “In my dream world,” said Imani Harris, youth education activist and communications lead for nonprofit 482Forward, “parents and students are making all of the decisions” about educational funding. One immediate need that the panelists agreed on was the critical shortage of teachers – especially qualified and BIPOC teachers – in public and charter schools. “We need to pay them, pay them right, and pay them what they’re worth” in order to keep good teachers from leaving for other states and districts, said Harris.

All three panelists touched on the mental health crisis in Generation Z, with many students expressing despair at increased police presence in schools, perceived lack of job prospects and frustration at poor school infrastructure. To alleviate this, the panelists all emphasized the value of non-transactional spaces like sports, creative and performing arts, and other out-of-school programs where students can express themselves and relax without pressure. Moving forward, these programs will be pivotal in creating optimism for students, while building community connections. “Hope is a discipline. Hope is a practice,” said Evamelo Oleita, co-founder of Black Lives Matter in All Capacities.

 The panel was hosted by the Skillman Foundation.