Detroit, Education — February 24, 2017

Who in their right mind thinks improving “failing” schools means defunding then shutting them down? Republicans.

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This is madness.

A Michigan law passed by Republicans allows for schools that don’t meet specific requirements for academic achievement to be simply closed. Shut down. Kids thrown out.

It’s a draconian step, one that essentially tells parents, “We don’t want to make the investments in your children’s schools needed to bring them up to par, so we are giving up on you.” These schools are often the focal point of communities, places where families interact, the glue that helps hold the neighborhood together. Shutting them down is one more nail in the coffin in terms of rebuilding communities.

This year, 38 schools, 24 of which are in Detroit, are slated for closure. Michigan Radio’s Jennifer Guerra produced some terrific reporting on this issue this week in her segment titled, “What’s the deal with Michigan’s plan to close 38 schools?” In it, she shows how few options are left for parents and their kids:

[I]t came as a big surprise to Eugene Brown to learn that his daughter’s school was among the worst in the state and could possibly close. How did he find out? He and parents at 38 schools across Michigan got a letter in the mail from the state School Reform Office (SRO). […]

[T]he state says it only gave parents a list of options that were ranked in the 25th percentile or higher. But according to our research, that’s not true. The Fitzgerald middle school, where [Brown’s daughter] Gniyah would go, is not in the 25th percentile; it’s in the 12th percentile. […]

Another problem with the list Eugene Brown got? It includes districts that don’t even take kids from Wayne County. Michigan law allows districts to take kids from other districts, what’s known as open enrollment. Open enrollment is optional, though most districts participate and the law stipulates that districts can only enroll kids who live in the same county or ones adjacent to it.

Our friends over at Chalkbeat first reported that the list Detroit parents got from the SRO included districts that don’t take kids from Wayne County, and even those districts that do take Wayne County kids might not have enough seats for them.

That’s the case with Fitzgerald’s middle school. I called the district and found out that it has seats available for Wayne County kids for K-2nd grades and high school, but the middle school, where Brown was hoping to send his daughter, won’t be taking any kids from outside Macomb County next fall. […]

The list that Eugene Brown and other Detroit parents got includes Detroit and other nearby districts, but it also includes districts 20, 30, even 40 miles away.

How would parents get their kids to those schools? Parents haven’t gotten an answer to that, and neither have two of the top education officials in the state.

In other words, the school district is lying about the options it’s giving parents, largely because there simply are no other options. And the options they ARE giving aren’t real options at all.

There is, of course, a lawsuit pending to stop the school closures. Detroit Mayor Duggan launched his reelection bid with a promise to fight the closures. Even Gov. Rick Snyder concedes there are major problems with this:

Snyder now says that closing the schools might not be the best option for Detroit students, and has asked the reform office and the Michigan Department of Education to come up with other potential plans to bring the schools around. He gave state officials until May to come up with new plans.

But the fact is we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. In a rational society, if a school is struggling, there would be a recognition of a systemic problem that needs to be dealt with. In the case of schools, that problem is invariably crippling poverty. Shutting down community schools doesn’t resolve that problem. Making these schools compete on an uneven playing field with for-profit charter schools doesn’t resolve that problem. Instead, our government should be INVESTING in schools and INVESTING in rebuilding communities. This is the only way improving our so-called “failing” schools will work.

And, let’s be clear: These schools aren’t “failing”. These schools have been FAILED. Failed by the state government that left them to molder and devolve as the communities around them fell into financial hardship with the implosion of the industrial base that supported them for so long. There has never been the sort of “educational surge” that could change their course. After years of neglect, they have had austerity forced upon them all while blaming teachers and administrators for the problems they had nothing to do with and screeching that they aren’t being “competitive” and deserve the fate imposed upon them.

None of this is rational. None of this is helping the multiple cohorts of students who have been failed by their state. None of this has resulted in the improvements everyone agrees are needed. It has, in fact, had the opposite effect. The state of Detroit Public Schools after years and years of state control and forced austerity should be a screaming, flashing, red-lettered neon sign telling us a new approach is desperately needed.

But, instead, Republicans are actually considering lowering our state income tax or even abandoning it altogether, which will reduce state revenues by astronomical levels, giving us even fewer options. This is madness and it all points back to something I and others have been saying all along: it’s intentional. Republicans have set things up in a way that is designed to fail. Then, when their Shock Doctrine policies have had the intended result, for-profit education corporations can swoop in to gather in those school-based tax dollars to enrich their shareholders.

It’s high time we – the collective, statewide WE – demanded a change.

  • Laurie Tata

    You’re exactly right, Chris. Setting up the system to fail is precisely what most republican legislators are so good at. Then, when everything collapses (or implodes) they like to pretend to be the big saviors by swooping in with their ready-made plans for privatization to benefit big business.

  • teele

    I have never understood the appeal to taxpayers of privatization. How will inserting a profit-taker into any public institution save us money? It cannot do so except by reducing services and cutting wages. These are the only two “efficiencies” private contractors have available to them, and when these produce insufficient profits, the contractors raise their rates, with enough padding included to take care of any second thoughts legislators might have about screwing their constituents. Only Republican voters can counted on to fall for this shell game time after time.

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