Money, Not Governance, Appears Main Focus of New Detroit School Proposal

Governor wants debt relief, charter schools survive

Legislation representing Gov. Rick Snyder’s latest attempt to tackle the operating debt accumulated by years of overspending by Detroit Public Schools was introduced Thursday. The centerpiece of the effort is relieving the district of having to repay $715 million in multiple successive emergency-finance loans approved and essentially co-signed by the state.

Unlike the original Snyder proposal announced last spring, the new version does not appear to erode the opportunities now available to Detroit parents to choose a school that best fits their children’s needs. But the bill also doesn’t identify the source of the millions of dollars that the governor has said are needed to bail out DPS.

"They haven’t spelled out where they will get the $715 million from," said Buddy Moorehouse, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. "Until we see where that is coming from, we are not celebrating yet."

Moorehouse said that his group, the industry group for public charter schools in the state, reviewed a draft of the upcoming bill on Wednesday. Snyder’s earlier plan would have given a school czar in Detroit the power to close charter schools and restrict the entities permitted to authorize new ones. The updated version does call for an appointed CEO, but without the power to restrict and close charters.

Charter school advocates feared the consequences of giving a political appointee the power to close schools. That’s because Detroit is a heavily Democratic city and the party in Michigan has been hostile to charter schools, which largely have nonunion workforces.

During a five-month stretch in 2014, Democrats in the Legislature introduced 10 bills and two budget amendments that would have imposed extensive regulations, restrictions, oversight and reporting requirements and even an outright ban on charter schools and the entities that authorize them.

The new bills also don’t centralize charter schools in the city under a single authorizer. Moorehouse said there are currently 13 different institutions that have authorized charter schools in Detroit.

“With a single authorizer in the city, you are losing the opportunity to have innovative schools open up,” Moorehouse said.

The first bill in an expected package, Senate Bill 710, sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, was introduced on Thursday.

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.