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‘Time to talk about something more drastic’ for Detroit Public Schools

By   /   March 17, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

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Legislators are struggling to find ways to help the Detroit Public School district, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

As Michigan lawmakers consider the best way to keep Detroit Public Schools afloat, an education policy analyst at a think tank in the state insists legislators should be considering a more drastic approach to handling the crisis.

Ben DeGrow, director of Education Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the crux of the argument within the legislature is limited to whether state emergency managers remain in charge or whether to return to local school board control.

“It’s time to talk about something more drastic,” said DeGrow. “Thinking completely outside of the box. I think we should try to do something that creates more school choice and school-level autonomy.”

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved $48.7 million in supplemental aid after the district’s state-appointed manager told legislators that teachers might not be be paid after April 8. Broader legislation is also under consideration and aims to overhaul the school district, which is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, said the $48.7 million that would keep DPS schools open the remainder of the year would come from the state’s tobacco settlement fund and not a loan, according to an Associated Press report. Pscholka recognized the urgency of the situation and said the bills are meant to keep the schools open. He also told Democrats during the committee meeting that parts of the legislation would be debated on the House floor after Democrats failed to gain support for a number of amendments they introduced.

“This is not the final solution,” Pscholka said, according to the AP report.

DeGrow told Watchdog.org there are a lot of moving parts, but little actual progress toward changing anything.

“I don’t see any serious movement,” said DeGrow. “The Detroit Public Schools will continue to be in crisis. It’s just frustrating to see no progress is being made.”

The conversations have been too narrow, he said, focused on “‘so if we are going to bail out Detroit Public Schools, do we keep state emergency managers or do we go back to local control and a school board.’ I would say neither of those options has proven very helpful to the education of students.”

DeGrow testified before the Appropriations Committee on March 7, telling lawmakers that additional school choice and other measures such as transportation vouchers for families deserve consideration.

“Despite my pessimistic tone, what I wanted to present to the legislature was a hopeful approach,” said DeGrow. “We need to be doing something that will inspire hope within families. Whether state emergency managers are running Detroit Public Schools or local schools boards, neither of those has inspired a lot of hope with families.”

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Heather Kays, Watchdog’s senior education reporter, has more than 12 years experience as a reporter and editor covering mostly education and politics. She has written for the Herald News, The Record and the Staunton, Virginia Gannett newspaper the News Leader. Her work has been published by USA Today, the Associated Press and various other newspapers and websites. Kays has won numerous awards including: second place for First Amendment writing (while working with four other reporters) from the New Jersey Press Association; third place for the Robert P. Kelly Award for first-year reporting from the New Jersey Press Association; second place by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists for first-year reporting and Virginia School Board Association’s Media Honor Roll for the year. In 2008, she won a scholarship to attend the Neiman Narrative Conference at Harvard University. Heather can be reached at [email protected]