News Story

Governor's Plan to Fix Education in Detroit May Threaten School Choice

Under different leadership, plan could empower shutting down Detroit charters

Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to revitalize schools within the city of Detroit has school-choice advocates concerned about potential threats to school choice in the city.

Charter school advocates fear that Snyder’s plan creates a bureaucracy with the authority to stop the growth of charter schools or even shut them down if different political leadership put anti-charter board members in charge.

The governor’s plan calls for the old Detroit Public Schools to be kept in existence for the administrative purpose of paying off the district’s debt. DPS has $483 million in operating debt and a combined capital and bond debt of $1.54 billion.

A new entity called the “Detroit Education District” would be created under a seven-member board, with four members appointed by the governor and three appointed by the mayor. The board would hire a “Detroit Education Manager,” who would have the power to open and close schools within the city.

The role of charter schools in educating Detroit schoolchildren is significant because Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has found they are doing a better job than conventional schools. A CREDO study in March said students in Detroit charter schools receive the equivalent of a few weeks to as much as several months of additional learning every year in reading and math compared to their peers at conventional public schools. The CREDO report stated that Detroit’s charter schools could serve as a model to other communities.

“Charter schools have provided a ray of hope for Detroit students,” said Audrey Spalding, the director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “This proposal threatens charter schools with the addition of another layer of expensive bureaucracy.”

Despite the success of charter schools in Detroit, members of Democratic minority in the Legislature have introduced bills that proponents fear could undercut charters. Such bills have no chance without Republican votes.

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the pro-school choice Great Lakes Education Project, said charter schools are at risk under Snyder’s plan.

Naeyaert says the governor's plan appears to be turning over the responsibility of opening and closing schools to a small group (seven-member board) that would select a portfolio manager called the “Detroit Education Manager,” who would make decisions on the fate of public schools, including charters.

“The worst-case scenario is that you have a political appointee with an anti-choice agenda who has the sole power to close dozens of existing charter schools,” Naeyaert said.

Alicia Urbain, vice president of legal and government affairs for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said there were possibilities down the road that could create problems for charter schools. Since legislation to make Snyder’s plan a reality has yet to be introduced, many details have yet to be determined.

The appointed board could be given the authority to renew charter contracts, Urbain said. Once the contracts are up, the board could refuse to renew them.

The board could also have the authority to establish an A-F letter-grading system for all schools in Detroit.

Urbain said the board could create a grading system that would make it impossible for any charter school to receive a passing grade, which would force them to close.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.