When is $500 million worth nothing?
When is $500 million worth nothing?
When you throw it away on a plan designed to fail, to prove an ideological point that has nothing to do with helping children.
Fifteen hours Michigan Republicans spent, pulling an all-nighter on Wednesday, to work out a plan to "save" Detroit Public Schools. The outcome? A package of bills that provides the framework necessary to execute Gov. Rick Snyder's proposed reforms — absent the cash required to make the plan work. It's a set-up, one that allows state legislators to swear that they really tried to help DPS, while all but ensuring that the district will continue to fail.
Where to lay the blame for this legislative failure? Votes on the package broke down largely on party lines. And that means our gaze is focused sharply on Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a leader under whose guidance of that chamber has produced little of value, and whose rhetoric grows more cloyingly sanctimonious by the day.
Snyder’s plan would create a new school district in Detroit, leaving DPS with its debt and operating millage; the new district would educate kids, using the funding the state allots to each district on a per-pupil basis. But that won’t resolve all of the district’s financial problems, so an influx of state cash -- and remember, the vast majority of DPS’ debt was incurred during the district’s prolonged stint under state oversight -- is required to ensure the new district can do its business.
In March, the state Senate passed a reform package aligned with Snyder’s plans, including $515 million to help pay down the district’s deficit and $200 million for transition costs, funds that would come from the state’s tobacco settlement.
The House's plan allots DPS just $467 million to pay down its deficit — that's not nearly enough to leave the district on firm financial footing.
The House legislation offers only the opportunity for a $33 million loan to handle transition costs — nowhere close to the $200 million the new district would require. Because of the way schools are funded, the new district won’t have cash on hand to launch. It needs operating funds until the first wave of state money comes in. Some DPS buildings need immediate repair. And there are costs associated with the work of forming the new district. Worse, saddling the new district with new debt means it won't start with a clean balance sheet.
Related: Teachers union, others blast House bills to rescue Detroit Public Schools as 'discriminatory'
Provisions that would limit collective bargaining and lower standards for teacher certification in Detroit are almost as obnoxious. Notably absent from the House package is the Detroit Education Commission, a new body supported by Snyder, the Senate, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and a coalition of business, civic and labor leaders in Detroit that would serve coordinate the opening of most traditional public and charter schools and develop accountability standards for schools in Detroit.
Charter school advocates oppose the new commission, which they suggest offers a backdoor route to eliminating or severely restricting those schools. With 40,000 students enrolled in Detroit charter schools, we don't think this is a likely scenario.
We're also unsure why low-performing charters should continue to siphon sorely needed tax dollars -- the premise of school choice being that choice is supposed to offer superior, not identical, outcomes.
We've yet to hear a rationale for lower teacher standards in Detroit that doesn't involve rank condescension — Detroit kids, the theory seems to go, should take what they can get. Detroit kids, lawmakers say, need innovation to produce better outcomes, regardless of whether said innovation has been proved to work. Detroit kids, lawmakers would have you believe, are different — deserve less — than children in every other part of the state.
Because those same lawmakers are not ramming the ideology of choice through their home districts.
It's ideological malice in the guise of noblesse oblige, and we're hopeful that the Michigan Senate — under the more even-handed leadership of Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof — will stick to its guns.
Related: Senate not sold yet on House version of Detroit schools fix
But we're concerned.
The roads deal reached last year offered a template we hope Meekhof does not follow — the Senate passed a reasonable package of bills, the House passed a terrible deal, and the Senate caved.
That can't happen again.
We've said this before, and we can't say it enough: There are 46,000 children enrolled in Detroit Public Schools. Michigan cannot be a successful state if we allow them to become collateral damage.
They are counting on you.