The Michigan Legislature passed a rescue plan for Detroit Public Schools last week that aims to end the district’s financial crisis, but many lawmakers and educators expressed concern that the package fails to correct the long-term, systemic issues that the led the district to this point.
With $617 million committed to fixing DPS’s financial woes, supporters of the bill hailed the legislation as a compromise between the Senate’s bi-partisan, $715 million bill and the Republican-led House’s original $500 million proposal. The bills will also return control of the district to an elected board after seven years of emergency management. However, critics argue that the plan still falls $80 million short of the amount needed to stabilize the district’s finances long-term and includes some controversial elements. The package passed with exclusively Republican support, without receiving votes from any legislators from the City of Detroit or any Democrats from around the state.
Controversial aspects of the plan include:
·A provision that allows for the hiring of uncertified teachers at the discretion of the local school board
·A merit pay system for teachers and principals based on standardized tests that does not factor in years of experience
·Punitive measures for teachers who participate in sickouts
·An advisory commission to make recommendations on the placement of charter and traditional public schools rather than the stronger Detroit Education Commission that was proposed in the Senate bill
The controversies surrounding this package of bills may have implications for other Michigan districts. For instance, does allowing a local district to circumvent the state’s certification system set a statewide precedent? This provision seems to support the de-professionalization of educators, disregarding the experience and investments of veteran teachers in favor of young, inexperienced candidates who will cost less to employ. From a public relations standpoint, this may further damage the district’s reputation, driving another exodus of students to schools of choice in surrounding suburbs and charter schools in the city that can now promote their schools as having more qualified teachers than DPS.
With no guarantee that charter operators will honor the recommendations of the advisory commission, they may locate their future schools near DPS schools and siphon their students, instead of working to supplement the existing public district by locating in more underserved neighborhoods. This plan continues the competitive dynamic between district and charter schools, rather than fostering a more unified, interdependent relationship. It is difficult to imagine that this advisory commission will do much to improve access to the full spectrum of educational options for Detroit families.
While this plan will balance the budget and return local control to Detroit Public Schools, it also leaves the district extremely vulnerable. Despite the balancing of books in the short term, it is difficult to see anything in this legislation that makes Detroit Public Schools a more attractive district for families than before, which will likely lead to the loss of more students and more financial struggles in the future.