While Michigan’s governor sees hope for Detroit’s inner city school children by way of new legislation, teachers and community leaders aren’t so sure.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $617 million bailout for Detroit’s Public Schools (DPS) on June 21, granting students a new opportunity for academic success.
“This marks a new day for Detroit families, with DPS free from debt and strong accountability measures for all schools in the city that promises a brighter future for all of Detroit’s children,” Snyder said in a press release.
Detroit public schools were in desperate need of financial relief, according to a report released earlier this year by Detroit Public Schools transition manager, Steven Rhodes. It was reported that DPS total debt was a staggering $3.9 billion, which includes $1.5 billion of long-term qualified bonds and a $1.3 billion of pension liability to Michigan Public Employee Retirement System.
“DPS simply cannot pay that debt while attempting to provide a quality education for its students,” the report said. “DPS faces special challenges in educating its students, compared to charters and suburban schools.”
The new bill looks to improve Michigan’s largest public system, which serves nearly 46,000 students. Of the $617 million, $467 million will be used to help cut down the debt that has cost the districts $1,100 per student yearly. An additional $150 million will be allocated to improve facilities and invest in student achievement.
“This legislation gives Michigan’s comeback city a fresh start in education,” Snyder said. “Now the residents of Detroit need to engage with their schools and help find good leaders who can provide the best possible chance of success for families in the city.”
The new legislation faces opposition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), as it feels Detroit public students are still at a disadvantage with antiquated policies. DPS will use a performance-based compensation for teachers, associating students’ academic performance to teacher pay—a method the AFT wholeheartedly disagrees with.
The “policy … has been discredited by respected researchers, failed in practice, and is no longer required under federal law. Rather than finding ways to attract and retain qualified and experienced teachers, this law now pretends that skill and knowledge means nothing,” said DFT Interim President Ivy Bailey and AFT president Randi Weingarten, and AFT Michigan President David Hecker, in a joint statement.
By allowing non-certified teachers to enter the classroom, often in schools serving some of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable students, this legislation puts the students and families of Detroit at risk.”
The statement added, “We believe this bills package is more about politics than helping kids. The conservative legislators in the state House and Senate who pushed it through wouldn’t accept these discredited reforms in their own children’s schools. Yet they are forcing them on Detroit’s kids—who overwhelmingly come from economically disadvantaged communities of color—because they think punishing Detroit’s most vulnerable citizens will score them political points with their donors and their base.”
Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, an organization that looks to bring change to the educational system in Detroit echoed similar sentiments.
“This legislation, force-fed down the throats of members of the Detroit delegation, and against the bipartisan Senate Bill 710, is lumpy enough to choke an elephant, and is more poisonous than the Flint River,” wrote Co-chair Rev. Wendell Anthony of Fellowship Chapel and president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP in an email. “It is a clear failure on the part of government to do its job, in representing all its people, and to protect those constitutionally it is duty-bound to serve. This so-called fix is not a fix at all. Detroit deserves better.”
Co-chair David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan expressed optimism in bringing continued change to the students of Detroit public schools, despite bad politics.
“Teachers, support staff, parents, Coalition members and community leaders are all going to dig in to do the best job possible to improve education in Detroit,” he said. “That commitment doesn’t go away just because bad legislation was passed. This isn’t the first time Detroiters have been dealt a bad hand,” he said in an email.