Republicans are now calling the irresponsible House plan for Detroit Public Schools a “compromise.”
Only in our Bizarro-world Michigan political system can that word be used.
In the business world our Republican leaders are so fond of saying they want to emulate, a compromise is a mutually agreeable solution between conflicting stakeholders.
Who is missing from this “compromise?” The biggest stakeholders of all: The teachers, the elected officials, the parents and the taxpayers of the City of Detroit, not to mention the entire state. This so-called compromise is being 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’s a much more concerning testament to the lack of representation anyone who isn’t a Republican receives in this state.
The Senate, to its great credit, passed a bipartisan plan that had the support of Mayor Mike Duggan and other elected officials in Detroit. The House, to its great shame, subsequently passed a package that none of the above stakeholders support. 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 are framing their opposition to the DEC as a principled stand for the education of children. In reality, it has 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 are abandoning 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, for example.
An investigation of charter schools by the Detroit Free Press chronicled the failings, detailing “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 are attempting to portray 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 willy-nilly across the city, leaving some areas with a glut of choices and others with few to none.
There needs to be a governing body vested with the authority to evaluate where schools should be placed in order to ensure all children geographically are served, and to oversee the quality of those schools and close ones that consistently fail students. This is not a pie-in-the-sky wish; it is a constitutional mandate that the state provide an equal, quality public school education for all children.
Think the problems are being 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.
In the coming days, Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican leadership of the House and Senate will continue to work on their so-called compromise. In doing so, they not only ignore the wishes of the community whose fate they are deciding, they are being reckless with the tax dollars of all Michiganders, by not instituting a strong system of checks and balances for all schools.
This compromise is maddeningly similar to the roads debate, with the Senate initially putting forth a reasonable plan and the House lowballing and winning the day with a fiscally irresponsible strategy.
A year later, the roads continue to crumble. Expect the same outcome for education in Detroit if House Republicans are allowed to prevail once again.