Why We Should Care About Detroit Public Schools Bills
Governor Snyder signed into law a package referred to as the Detroit Public Schools (DPS)
“bailout” June 21, 2016. This bill is a compromise between a package developed by Senator Geoff Hansen with input from the DPS Commission formed by Governor Snyder and stakeholders in Detroit, and the Michigan House bill. The Senate bill had support of Mayor Mike Duggan, DPS leadership, the Republican led Senate and Governor Snyder. The original House bill had the support of the Republicans in the House. What is in the bill and why should we care?
The bill is modeled on the bailout of GM where there is the “old” district which will be responsible for the debt accumulated over many years – nine of those years under emergency financial management - and a “new” district which starts fresh with no debt. The bill appropriates $617 million to address debt over time and there is a $150 million dollar loan to the new district for start-up costs. There is $25 million allocated for repair/maintenance of buildings, and teacher certification is altered.
There has been broad agreement on splitting the district to retire the debt and give DPS a new start. DPS has been leaking students; given our current funding model where the foundation grant follows the child DPS could not manage the debt with current funding. Keep in mind that the published “foundation grant” the per-pupil funding amount is actually immediately reduced by 24% once allocated. Your local school district returns 24% of the foundation grant to the State of Michigan for pension funding. The Senate approved $720 million to save the district. The $617 million approved will not retire the debt; we will revisit this issue in 8.5 years. Steven Rhodes, current Emergency financial manager of the district says that the $25 million allocated for building repair/maintenance if simply not enough money. If you owned a factory with workers exposed to vermin, mold and leaking roofs you would not be allowed to continue operation, yet we expect our children to learn in these environments.
The DPS Commission appointed by Governor Snyder made several key recommendations that were completely ignored by the House. The Commission concluded that there must be a governing entity for the district that would approve new school starts and close schools. One of the biggest challenges facing DPS is the proliferation of charter schools in some parts of the city, taking students out of public schools, and areas of the city without enough schools for the population. The House bill eliminates control over new charter and cyber schools. The House continues to undermine public schools, while supporting charters and for-profit schools. Have the charters performed better than the public schools in DPS? No. The Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), an alternative to public schools was eliminated in this legislation because of its miserable performance. Charter Schools are not performing better than public schools in Michigan, many are underperforming. Our concern should be to provide easily accessible excellent public education for every child in Michigan. The legislature wants to eliminate the cap on charter schools. Do we want charters springing up in our districts and drawing students out of our schools as has happened in DPS? Loss of students means loss of programs provided by our schools. How many of us enjoy watching our kids participate in sports, arts, and academic enhancements? Most of us build social networks and community bonds through our kids’ school activities and experience. Our schools are truly community centers.
Finally, the legislation allows for hiring people to teach that do not hold teaching certification. Certification in Michigan is rigorous, as it should be. I have been teaching for thirty-five years. I hold two degrees in education and have been evaluated as Highly Qualified, my supervisor referred to me as a “Master Teacher” in my last evaluation. I am required to complete continuing education credits to retain my certificate to better serve our students. The children of DPS deserve no less than every other kid in Michigan. They deserve teachers with passion for teaching and the educational process, understanding of curriculum and demonstrated ability to teach. In his paper “Teachers Make a Difference: What is the Research Evidence”1 John Hattie charts relative effects of characteristics of students and teachers in the classroom. Hattie shows that the single biggest influence in educational outcomes is the teacher. We all know this to be true at gut level – name the teacher that made a difference in your life, now name the teacher you liked the least. We know great teaching. Great teaching comes from people with a demonstrated commitment to education and a love of learning. If the state continues down the path of eliminating certification our students will suffer for it.
It has been clear for some time that the current governor and legislature support private and for-profit schools. I am the product of public schools as are my children. We must work to maintain our schools; education is the absolute bedrock of democracy and successful adulthood.