Here’s how it would work. First, the state legislature needs to approve the program. The statewide program would begin by January 2021, according to local outlet KTXS 12. The program itself would give front-line workers the chance to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree at the university level, or technical certification. It’s unclear how much the program would cost, but according to MLive, Whitmer hopes to use a combination of CARES Act funds, plus a separate fund for helping workers build new skills.
At the press conference on Wednesday, Whitmer compared front-line workers to Americans who “put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us from a foreign enemy” in the past, and spoke about how the nation gave such Americans “educational opportunities” (like the GI Bill) upon return. In facing the coronavirus pandemic, Whitmer said the “enemy” is a virus, “but our frontline workers are just as heroic, and that’s why it’s important for us to extend some gratitude, and some opportunity, once we are beyond this moment.”
In the past, Whitmer has also been a strong advocate for a tuition-free community college program for the state. Reconnect, as Whitmer mentioned, offers tuition-free community college to adults over 25 who don’t already have a college degree. Notably, Grand Rapids Community College has since offered a free associate degree for any student who graduates from one of the 22 high schools located in the city. That specific program has students fill out FAFSA, and will cover the expenses not covered through need-based aid—for example, books or course fees.
In a time when essential workers desperately need a workers’ bill of rights, every step toward helping with their long-term success is an important one. Of course, enough personal protective equipment, paid leave, and affordable health insurance are necessities that can’t be overlooked for today, either. Especially given that GOP lawmakers are worried about shielding companies from lawsuits over worker endangerment when it comes to the next phase of federal relief bills.