News Story

Gov. Snyder's Plan for Detroit Public Schools Meets Legislative Skepticism

Both parties have reservations

Both Democratic and Republican leaders of the Legislature are skeptical of Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to restructure public schools in Detroit.

Snyder released a plan last week that would create a separate “Detroit Education District” run by a seven-member board, which would hire an “education manager” with the power to close any conventional or charter school in the city, or open new ones. The existing Detroit school district would be kept in existence for the administrative purpose of paying off the district’s debt. This include $483 million from past overspending on operations, plus another $1.54 billion in capital and bond debt.

Some school choice advocates are concerned that the plan leaves the door open to reducing or eliminating the role of charter schools within the new district.

“I’m concerned about the plan,” said Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, who is chair of the Senate Education Committee. “I’m concerned about anything that is going to take away choice from parents in the district.”

Pavlov added, “Rather than asking the question of whether we should be limiting charter schools, I think the bigger question is why students are leaving Detroit Public Schools.”

When asked if he is supportive of the plan, Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Twp., replied, “No, I am not in favor of [the] governor's plan or anyone else's that doesn't include a private [choice] option.” Kelly is a member of the House Education Committee and chair of its subcommittee on school aid.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter said any plan for Detroit must put students and parents first.

“I am looking forward to learning more about the governor’s plan, and I’m holding off on making any judgments until I can talk with him about potential reforms and how we can work together to improve education in the city," Cotter said. "I am open to new ideas and suggestions, but any reforms we discuss in the House have to put kids and their parents first. DPS has significant financial hurdles to overcome, but that will never be as important as the quality of education the children in Detroit receive.”

The reaction from Democratic lawmakers was also lukewarm, though from a different angle. Some expressed concern that the seven-member board in charge of the city's schools would be appointed rather than elected. Four of the board members would be appointed by the governor and three by the mayor of Detroit.

“We know there’s a crisis in Detroit for our schoolchildren, and we know something must be done,” said Detroit Caucus Chairman Rep. Brian Banks, D-Detroit, in a news release. “Local control for our local schools is a top priority, as the governor’s current plan takes that local control away. Detroiters know what is best for Detroit, and this city needs their voice in this matter. We must not take any missteps when it comes to the education of our youth. Their success now is Detroit’s success in the future, and I will work tirelessly to make sure they get the excellent education they deserve.”

The Legislature's Detroit caucus wants a democratically elected school board, which wouldn’t be phased in under Snyder’s plan until 2021.

“As a former Detroit Public Schools teacher, it is my mission as a legislator to help Lansing understand Detroit's educational landscape while advocating for our children,” Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, said in a news release. “While this can't merely be about governance and finance, as co-chair of the Policy Subcommittee of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, I stand by the need to improve, sustain and return local governance of Detroit Public Schools to an elected school board. Currently, Detroit schoolchildren are lost in this shuffle game of charter schools, traditional public schools and the Education Achievement Authority, which hasn't worked. We must be deliberate in addressing the needs of our children, and maintaining dialogue with all stakeholders.

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.