Rep. Banks: EAA Expansion is a Power Grab that Puts Kids at Risk

Safety, academic concerns don’t slow GOP push for state takeover of schools
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

State Representative Brian Banks is calling for a halt to the expansion of the Education Achievement Authority (EAA), the vehicle used to take over challenged schools and put them under state control. Already operating 15 schools in Detroit, the EAA has been criticized for neglecting student safety, ignoring the needs of special education students and failing to deliver positive academic results. Rather than seeking a better school reform model for Michigan’s troubled schools, House Republicans are advancing a bill that recklessly increases the power and scope of the EAA while doing nothing to help students in the state’s most challenged schools prepare for the best careers of the future.

“As a former elementary teacher and adjunct professor, I am an advocate for education,” said Banks. “I am committed to ensuring that all children have access to the quality education they need to reach their full potential and compete for good-paying jobs; the EAA is not the answer.”

Students at EAA schools have spoken out about poor conditions in their buildings. One student at EAA-run Mumford High School said the school was more like a prison than a learning environment, and several said they feared for their safety. In fact, a report from EAA Chancellor John Covington outlined four incidents where teachers or staff members were fired or resigned after allegations of pushing or harming students. Other students said that computers have replaced teachers, and unchallenging software programs replaced books. Parents of children with special needs said that EAA-operated schools are failing in their obligation to provide their kids with legally mandated accommodation and support. As a result, parents and students are voting with their feet, and EAA schools saw enrollment drop by more than 2,000 between the end of the last school year and the start of the current one. The EAA has also been sharply criticized for its lack of transparency and accountability, and it has been plagued by the resignations of two EAA board members.

Rather than heeding these warning signs that the EAA isn’t working, House Republicans are poised to vote in favor of House Bill 4369, which would expand the scope of the EAA and put more schools under its control.

“I am completely opposed to the EAA for several reasons,” Banks said. “It stands in violation of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court, as it has created a separate and unequal district for certain students and families in Detroit; it stands in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as it takes away the ability of citizens to elect a school board, replacing it with a wholly appointed governing body; the EAA follows a model that has failed elsewhere, such as Kansas City, Mo., where the district abandoned the approach; and the EAA has failed to prove it is sustainable, requiring a $2 million advance to maintain operations after only a few months in existence.”

In contrast, House Democrats have introduced two proposals that will support school districts as they seek solutions that will truly improve troubled schools. House Bill 5268, sponsored by state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), provides for comprehensive audits involving input from school administrators, teachers, parents and other community members to turn struggling schools around before they fail. House Bill 5269, sponsored by state Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids), creates a statewide study to truly understand the cost of educating our children so that school funding dollars can be wisely spent.