Detroit, Education — May 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

UPDATED: EAA has spent nearly a quarter million dollars on travel, gas, chauffeur, and furniture since its inception


The Detroit News has a report out today that is both shocking and unsurprising. In it, they reveal that, since its inception in the fall of 2012, the Education Achievement Authority has spent nearly a quarter million dollars in travel, gas, a chauffeur for Chancellor John Covington, on furniture and other miscellaneous, non-education-related items. And they put it all on the credit card.

Nearly $240,000 in travel, gas and IKEA furniture was charged on two credit cards of the chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority in less than two years, records obtained by The Detroit News show.

As teachers complained about funding problems so severe they bought supplies with their own money, Chancellor John Covington and his staff charged $178,000 on hotel and airfare traveling to 36 cities from April 2012 to February, according to his credit statements.

Also charged: nearly $10,000 in gas for Covington’s chauffered car, $25,000 at IKEA and $8,000 combined at, Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Meijer, Home Depot and Lowe’s. In October and November alone, the EAA charged $38,000 to send Covington, staffers and teachers to conferences and seminars in Baltimore, Dallas, New York, Las Vegas, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Raleigh, N.C., and Allentown, Pa.

The charges came as EAA teachers scrambled to find books, furniture and even paper, said Brooke Harris, a former English teacher at Mumford High School. That’s one of 15 low-performing Detroit schools taken over by the state-created district in the 2012-13 academic year.

“It’s appalling. That’s money that could pay teachers or buy novels or even desks for kids,” said Harris, who was fired in August after organizing a student walkout over district conditions. “The common refrain was ‘there isn’t enough money in the budget.’ Apparently, there was money in somebody’s budget. Just not for the kids.”

Brooke Harris has it just right. It’s clear that the EAA schools can’t teach kids on the amount they receive from the state of Michigan. That’s why they get hundreds of millions of dollars of grants and donations from pro-school privatization groups. Just last week they were awarded three quarters of a million dollars for a revitalized or new high school from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michigan Education Excellence Foundation. This after being told that their schools are out-performing public schools despite clear evidence to the contrary. And that is just a small part of the grants they have received.

EAA officials defend the expenses saying that they are necessary and that “vigorous and regular professional development was absolutely essential for teachers and administrators as they worked to help these children who are in greatest need improve their learning.”

But these expenses weren’t all for “professional development”. Chancellor Covington and his staff frequently travel around the country to crow about their so-called “success” with the governor’s failed experiment with Detroit students.

For example, Dr. Covington himself has traveled to the School Improvement Innovation Summit in Sandy, Utah (a suburb of Salt Lake City) in 2012, the EdNET conference in Denver, CO in 2013, and the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island in 2013. In other words, at least some of these expenses appear to be footing the bill for John Covington to travel around the country to brag about the EAA.

The EAA is affiliated with one of the premier education universities in the country through Eastern Michigan University. There are plenty of professional development services available there. When teachers are unable to obtain supplies for their students and we hear Chancellor Covington explaining how he can’t do more because the money isn’t available, these travel-related credit card bills are hard to swallow. As Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson put it in a statement, “Spending hundreds of thousands on dollars on things like personal chauffeurs and new IKEA furniture while kids go to schools without heat or air conditioning shows that Republican Gov. Snyder’s risky school takeover district is continuing to fail our kids. This waste and abuse of power is exactly why the EAA is opposed by members of the state Board of Education, current and former teachers in the district, and professional educators all over our state and country. Michigan schools need more leaders in Lansing who will once again invest in our public schools, not force a school takeover meant to enrich Gov. Snyder’s friends and allies.”

UPDATED: Michigan Democrats are calling for an investigation. Here’s House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel:

The EAA had to borrow $12 million through the Detroit Public Schools to stay afloat, and then needed an advance from the state when they couldn’t pay it back. At the same time, EAA fat cats, such as Chancellor John Covington, were taking trips around the country to places such as Orlando, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach and Los Angeles, spending $25,000 on IKEA furniture and putting $10,000 in gasoline into Covington’s chauffeur-driven car. Meanwhile, the EAA’s teachers were told that if they wanted books in their classrooms, they’d have to buy it themselves. There can be no excuse for this selfish behavior and utter disregard for our kids. There must be an investigation into these abuses, and those responsible must be held accountable.

Democratic Vice chairwoman for the House Education Committee and Senate candidate Ellen Cogen-Lipton:

The EAA has demonstrated once again that it exists to serve its own administrators and not our kids. To consider expanding the EAA in light of these most recent abuses would be inexcusable. We don’t need to enlarge the EAA, we need to end it and replace it with real reforms that work.

Vice chairman of the House School Aid Fund Appropriations Subcommittee Brandon Dillon:

We’ve gotten used to the EAA failing our kids at every opportunity, but to see that the district squandered almost $240,000 on junkets for administrators, trendy and foreign furniture and other frivolities is even worse than I could have expected from them. Teachers were being told there was no money for books while adults were traveling to vacation destinations and charging the bill to taxpayers. Legislative Republicans must do the right thing and immediately investigate this outrageous squandering of taxpayer money and disregard of the public’s trust.”