Legislative hearings are underway on a plan to keep Detroit Public Schools (DPS) from going broke.
Bills in the state Senate would commit more than $700 million from the state to restructure Michigan’s largest district and help pay down its crushing debt. Lawmakers serving on the state Senate Government Operations Committee acknowledged repeatedly that the stakes are high. “The legislation that we’re going to put through and go through the process here is going to be a piece of legislation that is going to be here for years – for infinity, because we’ll be impacting children. So we’ve got to get this right,” said state Senator Morris Hood III (D-Detroit).
Much of the conversation Thursday centered on creating an appointed board to oversee the opening and closing of schools – both traditional public schools and charters. The bills do not create such a board. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and others say it’s necessary to create stability. Duggan also told lawmakers that DPS this month will pay almost as much in debt service as it will for teacher payroll. But he says the legislation still needs to do more to help the district in non-financial ways. “I don’t think it goes far enough in actually changing the teaching in the classroom – getting these children to achieve,” said Duggan.
Meanwhile, the Republican sponsor of the legislation says he’s committed to getting rid of the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) as part of that plan. State Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart) says the bills include a number of things that are needed to win support from Detroit lawmakers. “They’ve shared with me that the elimination of the Education Achievement Authority, the EAA, was a top priority. I’ve made a commitment to make sure that this happens,” Hansen told the committee.
The EAA is Governor Rick Snyder’s agency in charge of turning around 15 of the worst-performing schools in Detroit. It has faced heavy criticism over poor academic results and charges of corruption.