Detroit Mayor: ‘We’ve Got To Change’ Children Fleeing City’s Failed Schools

Yes, make the schools more attractive, but don’t block parents’ ability to choose better for their kids

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan talked about the exodus of students from his city’s public school district at a state policy conference held this week on Mackinac Island.

“This morning 30,000 children got up and went to school in the suburbs,” Duggan said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “We've got to change that.”

ForTheRecord says: There is no dispute that the Detroit Public Schools Community School District has failed to provide a quality education for the children it is supposed to serve.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress issues biennial ratings for urban school districts, and Detroit ranked last in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.

But with public school options like charter schools and cross-district Schools of Choice, Detroit’s children are no longer trapped in the nation’s worst urban school district. And more than ever, their parents are taking advantage of the opportunities.

There are about 27,000 school-age children who reside in Detroit but attend a public school — either a charter or conventional district school — in a different city.

For example, 2,790 Detroit children now attend the Oak Park School District in Oakland County. Another 694 go to schools in Wayne County’s Redford Union district. Dearborn Heights schools enroll 334 Detroit schoolchildren and Ferndale’s schools educate 596 from the city of Detroit. These children are benefiting from a cross-district Schools of Choice law enacted in the 1990s.

Among those 27,000 Detroit children commuting out of town every day, roughly 15,000 attend a charter school.

Duggan is now on record that he wants to stop all of that.

It’s understandable that the mayor would prefer Detroit children to attend a school in the city. But the concern is how he chooses to pursue that desire. If he does this by doing what he can to make the city’s conventional public schools sufficiently attractive that parents freely choose them, that would benefit the city.

In March, Duggan proposed something along those lines, a unified school bus system that would transport students to any public school in the city, whether a charter or district school.

“If we can get DPS and the charters working together and collaborating, we can find good choice right here in the city,” Duggan said in a March 6 Detroit Free Press story. “My role will be to support them, not choose sides.”

The concern, however, is past actions indicating that Duggan is willing to take school choice opportunities away from parents.

In 2014, Duggan signed a Detroit City Council resolution banning the city from selling 77 properties it holds, including many closed schools, to any charter school located within one mile of an existing conventional Detroit district school.

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Detroit Prep is a top-rated and economically and racially diverse charter school in the city. It's growth means it needs to move out from a church basement and into a new location. Nearby is a former Detroit Public Schools building, sitting empty for years. But, worried about competition, the public school district refused to sell. For years, district and local government officials in Detroit had worked to block public charter schools. They pushed legislation at the Michigan Capitol to hinder them, refused to sell to them, transferred surplus buildings from the district to the city government and imposed deed restrictions on property sales to private developers. All of it was aimed to hinder or even prevent charter school choice outside the confines of the Detroit school district.

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