It’s no secret that many Republicans in the Michigan legislature want to destroy public education in our state and funnel tax dollars into the coffers of for-profit charter schools. For anyone paying attention, that’s a given.
What is surprising, to me at least, is how brazen they have become.
Detroit Public Schools is on the brink of bankruptcy. According to DPS Treasurer Nick Khouri, they are about to run out of money very, very soon. He also says bankruptcy should be off the table:
The debt owed by Detroit Public Schools is an obligation of the state that lawmakers cannot ignore, Khouri said.
“Bankruptcy is a terrible option,” Khouri said. “The debt in the district is different from that of a city, and makes bankruptcy such a difficult option.”
He continued, “If bankruptcy were declared, that could be six to 12 months of pure chaos and nearly $100 million going to bankers and lawyers.”
In an effort to rescue the financially struggling school district, Senate Republicans put forth a plan that follows Gov. Snyder’s lead in forming two districts, one which has all the debt and another which would received all the per-pupil state and federal funding and would educate kids. Here are some of the other features, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press:
- Interim, nine member school board would be appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (five appointments) and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (four appointments). That board would hire the district’s superintendent.
- A nine-member school board would be elected by Detroit voters in November — seven from districts throughout the city and two from at-large — and take office on Jan. 1, 2017.
- A finance review commission would have oversight authority over the district’s finances and would have to approve key personnel decisions.
- A transfer of $250 million from the state’s general fund would be made to create a new DPS district. A source of funding to pay off the district’s $515-million debt has not been identified.
- A state-appointed CEO will have authority over the lowest 5% of schools in the state, in terms of academic performance, continuing a form of the state school-reform district known as the Education Achievement Authority.
Detroit-area lawmakers are not happy with it, as you might imagine.
But that’s the “good” plan. Another plan being rolled out in the House of Representatives is such a blatant attempt to use Shock Doctrine politics to destroy public education that it is gobsmacking in its audacity.
Their plan restores power to the democratically-elected Board of Education but not for eight years. It also strips the right of teachers to collectively bargain for anything but wages and benefits. Working conditions? Nope. Work schedules? Nope. School calendar? Nope.
It doesn’t stop there. The House’s approach would allow the new district to hire teachers with “alternate” certification meaning that they wouldn’t have to be as qualified as teachers in any other school district. It would also tie teachers’ pay and benefits to student academic progress despite the fact that most of what determines a child’s success in school is tied to his or her level of poverty.
The Detroit Free Press issued a scathing rebuke of the House GOP plan in an op-ed titled “DPS House legislation is an insult”:
But changes larded on by Republican lawmakers mean this legislation would essentially create a school district in Detroit with lower standards than any district in the state.
By gutting some provisions of the state law that requires collective bargaining for some portions of teacher contracts, by allowing the new district to hire teachers with “alternate” certification, by tying teacher pay and benefits to nebulously defined performance standards, the bills’ sponsors are saying that Detroit’s children, of all the children in the state, deserve less. Much less. Detroit kids, it seems, don’t deserve the same quality of education as kids in West Bloomfield or Grosse Pointe.
The state Senate introduced its own DPS reform package earlier this month, sponsored by state Sen. Geoff Hansen, R-Hart, who had worked closely with Snyder. That plan wasn’t perfect: An education commission that would have had oversight over both charter and traditional public schools was stripped out of the plan.
Neither plan has won the approval of Detroit lawmakers. Nor should they.
What Republican education reformers are doing, in essence, is to bluntly state that Detroit school children are only worthy of a second class education. Instead of investing in public education in Detroit to raise the schools there to the level of schools in the rest of the state, they want to lower the standards in Detroit so that more and more parents will take their children elsewhere. Oh, and by the way, they also want to institute an A-F grading system just for Detroit schools that will all but ensure that they have fewer and fewer students and, naturally, less and less state funding because of it.
And, just to be sure they’ve covered ALL their bases, there’s some union busting thrown in for good measure, too.
One of the top proponents of the new plan is a freshly-minted House member from Holland on the other side of the state, Daniela Garcia. As Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson points out, Rep. Garcia is the DeVos family’s bought-and-paid-for state legislator. Literally bought-and-paid-for:
Garcia is a former aide to ex-U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, whose former congressional district encompasses the realm of Michigan’s uber-wealthy DeVos family, among the most generous donors to both the state GOP and the charter school movement. She made her debut in elective politics in 2014, when she escaped from a five-way GOP primary to succeed the term-limited Rep. Joe Haveman in the heavily Republican 90th House District. The November general election, in which her Democratic opponent captured scarcely 20% of the vote, was a formality.
The DeVoses and their pro-charter Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) took an interest in that primary election, in which Garcia needed just 4,100 votes to top a field that included the retiring incumbent’s distant cousin, Geoff Haveman.
In the period immediately preceding the August primary, Amway founder Richard DeVos Sr., former Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos Jr., and other seven other Devos family members poured more than $10,000 into Garcia’s campaign and various political action committees that supported it, about a fifth of what Garcia spent on the primary contest.
The DeVos donations were part of nearly $50,000 the family and GLEP lavished on Republican members of the House Education Committee. Garcia, who was named vice chair of the committee after her election, was the second-largest beneficiary, bested only by committee chair Lisa Postumus Lyons, who got $13,000.
So when GLEP needed spear-carriers to promote its charter-friendly bailout plan for DPS, Garcia was among the first in line. She’s the primary sponsor of two of the six bills in the Michigan House package unveiled last week, which would put postpone DPS’s return to local governance for at least another year and all but obliterate the collective-bargaining rights of Detroit teachers.
Betsy DeVos jumped in on the topic, too. In a recent op-ed for The Detroit News she ran through the same anti-public education, anti-teacher, anti-labor talking points we get every time education legislation is being considered. Ironically, this “retread” op-ed says we don’t need an “DPS retread”. And there’s no mistaking her insistence that DPS needs to be crushed and discarded in favor of for-profit charter schools. She makes no effort to hide it. She finishes her diatribe with an utterly ironic question: “Why should educational choice in Detroit be restricted only to the city’s political and civic elite?”
The better question is, of course, “Why should educational excellence in Michigan be restricted only to cities other than Detroit?”
One final thing to note: In the 7 years that Detroit Public Schools have been under the control of an Emergency Manager, their debt has not decreased. In fact, it has grown by over $100 million. And student performance is no better today than it was 7 years ago.
It’s time to invest in a public education “surge” in Michigan and especially in struggling districts like Detroit. Further disinvestment and promotion of charter schools will only hasten the destruction of the bedrock American institution of public education.