Monday, June 13, 2016

Designed to fail

About 18 months ago Detroit emerged from bankruptcy. The effort was led by judge Steven Rhodes, backed by Gov. Rick Snyder. The general feeling is that Detroit got the best deal it could and with all that financial mess cleared away can begin a comeback. Cool!

Attention now turns to the Detroit Public School system. Several years ago – 8 or 9? – DPS was having financial difficulties because of the Great Recession, falling enrollment, and stingy state lawmakers. The governor at the time appointed an emergency financial manager. The problems got worse. The debt load mounted. Students fled the system. A series of emergency managers were appointed, each one compounding the problems. The last one appointed was Steven Rhodes, who had recently retired as a judge. The buildings had become unsafe. Teachers started staging sick-outs to emphasize the plight of their students. And Rhodes started issuing warnings to the legislature: DPS is about to go bankrupt.

The legislature supplied enough funding to get through the end of the school year. Then dithered. Finally, last week a rescue bill was passed. Gov. Snyder said it wasn't perfect, but it did have a few good things in it – such as $617 million – so he would sign it.

It also has a few nasty things in it, such as punishment of teachers and unions that stage sick-outs. Thanks, GOP.

I frequently have lunch with friends from my previous church. One couple are retired teachers (though not from DPS). She went on to serve on the school board of her district. She said this rescue bill is designed to fail.

Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press agrees. The legislature intends to put DPS out of business. In their view, Detroiters have forfeited the right to control their own schools (because why? – State appointed emergency managers have run up massive debts? The legislature is stingy? Because Detroit residents are mostly Black and poor and don't vote GOP?). In addition, he says the bad way DPS is being handled imperils Detroit's recovery. Then he supplies details.

Yes, the legislature authorized $617 million to be spent on DPS. But that is the minimum to avoid bankruptcy until (1) most of the current crop of lawmakers are term-limited from having to deal with the problem and (2) charter school operators are better able to fill the void.

The rescue bill did not contain any language to regulate charters. That means charter schools remain essentially accountable to nobody – not to a locally elected school board, not to parents, not to any state agency.

GOP lawmakers are crowing about how this gives parents choice. Don't like DPS? Take your children to any charter you want, the same as shopping at any store you want.

Dickerson says Detroit parents see through that lie. Yeah, the parents can choose the schools. But – taking the shopping analogy further – the company chooses the store location (and it isn't in poor neighborhoods) and the company chooses whether the product meets state requirements.

Dickerson didn't mention one other problem – DPS, as a public school, can't refuse students. Charters can. Let's keep kicking the poor. Put another way: this legislature doesn't want Detroit kids to be educated.

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