The following guest post was written by Jen Eyer, Vice President of Vanguard Public Affairs. Jen has spent many years in the world of journalism and most recently managed the newsroom for The Ann Arbor News, part of the MLive Media Group. You can read her full bio HERE.
As Michiganders, we should all be concerned about the way House Republicans rammed through their “compromise” legislation revamping Detroit Public Schools.
Last week, it was Detroit. But pay attention because your city, your school district could be next.
In the business world our Republican leaders are so fond of, a compromise is a mutually agreeable solution between conflicting stakeholders. But missing from this “compromise” were the biggest stakeholders of all: Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit lawmakers who represent the city’s students, teachers, parents and taxpayers — not to mention the lawmakers who represent taxpayers around the entire state. This so-called compromise was struck purely between Republicans.
It’s a sad testament to the dysfunction in their own party that they can’t get on the same page. But it also throws into stark relief the lack of representation experienced by anyone in this state who isn’t a member of the DeVos family.
The Senate, to its great credit, worked for 15 months to craft and pass a bipartisan plan that had the support of Duggan and other elected officials in Detroit, as well as Gov. Rick Snyder. House leaders, to their great shame, subsequently shut out their Detroit and Democratic colleagues and passed a package that none of the above stakeholders supported. Critically missing from the House package was the creation of a Detroit Education Commission that would regulate the opening and closing of public and charter schools in the city.
House leaders framed their opposition to the DEC as a principled stand for the education of children. In reality, it had nothing to do with the education of children and everything to do with the wishes of their wealthy, conservative, anti-union financial backers from west Michigan. In their political zeal to bust the unions who provide support for Democrats, they abandoned fiscal responsibility and common sense.
The unrestrained proliferation of charter schools in Detroit has led to worse educational outcomes for countless Detroit children, according to Ed Trust-Midwest, with 65 percent of charter schools in Detroit performing worse than Detroit Public Schools among African-American students in eighth-grade math.
An investigation of charter schools by the Detroit Free Press chronicled the failings. They detailed a litany of terrible outcomes: “Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.”
House leaders and their friendly charter school lobbyists also portrayed their opposition to the DEC as a principled stand for “school choice.” No one on either side of the aisle argues that parents should have not have choices. Quality charter schools can be a wonderful thing; that’s not in question. The real issue, the issue the DEC would address, is that Detroit has a huge problem with schools opening and closing haphazardly across the city, leaving some areas with a glut of choices and others with few to none.
The city needs a governing body vested with the authority to evaluate where schools should be placed to ensure all children geographically are served, to oversee the quality of those schools, and to close those that consistently fail students. This is not a pie-in-the-sky wish; it is a constitutional mandate that the state provide all children with equal access to a quality public school education.
Think the problems are exaggerated? Consider this: In one Detroit neighborhood, the only option for high schoolers is a charter school whose chief financial officer and dean have both been found guilty in scandals elsewhere involving misappropriation of public funds. What’s more, the school opened in 1997, and only two of its students have ever been deemed college ready by ACT benchmarks.
Who is holding that school accountable for educating children? Apparently, no one. Its initial charter school authorizer eventually abandoned it, but another one quickly stepped in to provide the same, in-name-only oversight.
Gov. Snyder has indicated he will sign this plan into law, thereby ignoring the wishes of the community whose fate it affects and ignoring the fiscal responsibility he has to the rest of the state. By not insisting on instituting a strong system of checks and balances for all schools, Snyder is being reckless with the state’s tax dollars.
Already, those who support unrestrained charter schools are attempting to rewrite history. “They ran away from the burning building while yelling insults to those running in to help. They’d have more credibility if they supported something,” MIRS quoted former Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger as saying, referring to Democrats and Detroit lawmakers who railed against House Republicans for their plan.
Putting aside the richness of slamming people for not supporting something when they weren’t even invited into the negotiations, Democrats and Detroit lawmakers did support the aims of that bipartisan Senate plan. Quite loudly, in fact. They did so in news articles. They did so on their social media accounts, and in videos.
The fact that even Sen. Geoff Hansen (R-Hart), the chief architect of the Senate plan, could not bring himself to vote for the “compromise” plan should tell you everything you need to know.
In a statement on the Senate floor, Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, said the plan that eventually passed “appears to be specifically designed to set DPS up for failure.” Without an authoritative body like the DEC the same old problems will continue to gnaw away at the district. Once the money runs out, the district will plunge back into debt, Knezek has predicted.
If and when that happens, Michiganders should remember who is responsible and hold them accountable.