LANSING — Members of the Detroit Caucus voiced concern today regarding the ongoing debate over the direction of Detroit Public Schools, citing the continued refusal to acknowledge Detroit voices as a key failure of the numerous bill packages offered to address issues in the school district. The most recent iteration — a package pushed through by the House Republicans during a late night session in May — has been widely criticized by governmental officials at all levels. Among its many failings, numerous financial analysts have pointed out that the package does not provide adequate funding, and will require more legislation to prop the district up in the near future.
“We have continually called for legislation that will ensure DPS receives adequate funding, and gives the district an opportunity to level the playing field,” said Rep. Brian Banks (D-Detroit), Detroit Caucus chair. “At this point approximately $4,500 goes into a DPS classroom, while the average charter benefits from approximately $6,500 per classroom. The challenge we’re faced with now is advancing a legislative package which more fairly addresses this discrepancy, and does not ultimately leave DPS more vulnerable than before.”
The district continues to flounder despite years of state control, with many noting mismanagement on the part of governor-appointed emergency managers — a succession of whom racked up debt without adequately addressing critical needs — as the primary cause of DPS’ issues. Despite its role in the derailing of the district, the state has thus far refused to cede even partial control back to DPS, and Republican legislators have continually structured bill packages around the weakening of the district, with charter and cyber schools reaping the literal and figural profits. The current legislative package would allow for the creation of a Detroit Education Commission, which would be responsible for the opening and closing of schools. While this idea has garnered support, many Detroit legislators feel the concept must be further tailored to include Detroit voices.
“When a school building closes, we need to make sure that parents and employees receive proper and timely notification, and that there are plans in place to transition students to other schools and secure the building to ensure the safety of the neighborhood,” said Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit). “Community input in school openings and closings is critical. Whatever form a centralized coordinating body takes, we need regional councils and local school leadership teams in advisory positions, as no one knows what Detroit communities need better than Detroiters themselves.”
“The state should not get to pick which districts are winners and which are losers,” said Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit), Urban Education Advisory Reform chair. “All children deserve a quality education, and there are a number of things we need to be addressing, in conjunction with the district’s debt, in order to provide that. Legislation which provides adequate funding would ensure our ability to attract and retain highly qualified teachers, as well as allowing us to adopt an unbiased accountability framework for the district, and to return to democracy by reinstating the currently elected school board. There are so many people deeply invested in seeing this district succeed, but too often their voices go unheard. It is time for us to work together for the betterment of DPS students.”
“It is deeply frustrating that we must constantly fight for something which should simply be a given,” said Rep. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit). “The state is responsible for what is happening in DPS, yet the democratic process is continually flouted, and local control continues to be eroded. It is vital that control be restored to the DPS board — this is a right that was earned through voter consensus, not a privilege the state should be debating. The current system in place has done nothing but harm our children, and we are seeing an entire generation suffer for it. The state has instead promoted greed amongst corrupt administrators able to operate with little oversight and allowed clandestine agendas and the deep pockets of special interests to oppress the will of the people. That needs to end.”
Criticism of the Republican legislative package has also extended to the complete absence of several key elements repeatedly called for by Detroit legislators and local stakeholders, including an audit of the district to determine exactly where funding is being allocated. Other pieces include the call for a repayment of teacher loans (TIP), which were offered to the district on a voluntary basis, the return of an elected school board, the return of the 15 schools currently under the management of the Educational Achievement Authority, and the guarantee of adequate funding.
“As a product of DPS, I have watched the district continually be dismantled,” said Rep. Fred Durhal III, Assistant Democratic Leader. “Now we’re seeing the end result of years of legislation which has been meant not to address problems in the city, but rather to contain and isolate the poverty so it doesn’t spread to the suburbs. We should be asking questions about why Detroit is the only troubled school district that has been treated this way by the state.
“At the end of the day, we truly believe that there is a way out of this crisis,” said Rep. Alberta Tinsley-Talabi (D-Detroit). “We’ve called for these same things over and over again — an audit, adequate funding, discussion and collaboration with Detroiters — not because we enjoy the repetition of it, but because we have known that that was the surest path to success for students. Everything else that the state has tried has been an abject failure, and DPS can no longer afford to bear the burden of their mistakes. It is time for a different approach, and if we work together, we are much more likely to find it.”