News Story

Ann Arbor Teacher Doesn’t Like Betsy DeVos, Or School Choice

Gets $97k in salary and wrote a musical satirizing secretary of education

An Ann Arbor Public Schools teacher is so upset with Betsy DeVos that he has written a satirical musical attacking the U.S. secretary of education.

Quinn Strassel, an Ann Arbor Community High School teacher, was quoted in a MLive story saying he wrote the musical to tell people about “the negative impact she’s had on schools.”

But if the standard for negative impact is school finance, it doesn’t apply to the school districts he mentioned in the MLive story, or even to his own compensation.

Strassel’s total salary in 2015-16 (the year before DeVos was appointed) was $82,343, and it rose to $97,259 in 2017-18. That’s an 18% pay hike over two years. His salary includes extra money for acting as a program director.

MLive reported: “Strassel laments that Ypsilanti High doesn’t have the same type of drama program it used to have. Education funding cuts have left schools suffering, he said, and many parents in places like Ypsilanti now send their children to other school districts.”

“‘Hundreds of kids from Ypsilanti and millions of dollars now come to Ann Arbor Public Schools,’ he said. ‘My paycheck is bolstered on the demise of the school system that gave us an incredible education.’”

But if parents in the Ypsilanti school district’s jurisdiction took advantage of a state law that lets them send their children to a nearby district, it’s not because Ypsilanti schools lack funding. Both Ypsilanti and Strassel’s own school district have experienced increases in state funding.

Across the state, Michigan’s school districts are getting more state funding than ever before. State financial support for K-12 public schools has increased every year since 2011-12, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Ypsilanti and Willow Run school districts merged in 2013, and state funding to the combined district has increased, not gone down.

After adjusting for inflation, Ypsilanti Community Schools received $568 more per pupil in 2018-19 than in 2013-14, the first year for the combined district. Ann Arbor Public Schools’ state funding has also increased, from $6,488 per pupil (adjusted for inflation) in 2015-16 (the year before DeVos was appointed) to $6,844 in 2018-19.

DeVos is the U.S. secretary of education, holding an office that has no say on state education taxes and state funding for public schools.

Strassel has been an outspoken critic of the Schools of Choice law that lets parents place their children in nearby districts that have space, with state school aid dollars following the student. He appeared in a podcast hosted by the Washington Post and said allowing parents to exercise this choice is harmful to education.

From The Washington Post podcast:

STRASSEL: “I’m really proud to have grown up in Ypsilanti and to have attended school there. But school choice is sort of advertised as this thing that empowers communities. But what’s happened is the entire school system in Ypsilanti has fallen apart. There were two school districts that were forced to consolidate because as Ann Arbor engaged in school choice we took a lot of the best students away from Ypsilanti. So my paycheck is bolstered at the demise of my hometown.”

Ypsilanti Community Schools has five elementary and junior high schools, and two high schools. On a Mackinac Center report card that adjusts schools’ performance to reflect the socioeconomic status of their student bodies, the Ypsilanti primary schools received grades of A, C, C, D and D. The two high schools received a C and an F.

Ann Arbor Public Schools has 25 elementary and junior high schools that received six A’s on the Mackinac Center report card, 11 B’s, six C’s and two D’s. Ann Arbor’s Pioneer, Huron and Skyline high schools all received A’s.

Of the students who live within the Ypsilanti Community School District’s jurisdiction, 1,032 were sent by their parents to Ann Arbor schools in 2018-19. Ypsilanti Community Schools enrolled 3,840 students that year.

Strassel didn't respond to an email seeking comment.