Gov. Rick Snyder releases details of Detroit education plan

DETROIT - Gov. Rick Snyder will ask lawmakers to direct $70 million more a year over a decade to Detroit's school district to address $715 million in operating debt.

Snyder says if nothing is done and the troubled state-run district has "financial defaults," Michigan will be on the hook for more in the future. He warned Monday that every other K-12 district would face higher retirement system bills.

Snyder first outlined his plan to divide the district in two nearly six months ago. He expects to propose legislation this month and is hopeful the Republican-controlled Legislature will act by year's end.

His plan would allow an education manager to close the city's low-performing traditional or charter schools. Snyder is dropping plans for a mandatory common enrollment system, instead favoring a voluntary approach.

"There is no question that Detroit children need a solid education so they can compete in a global economy but also for their city to accelerate its revitalization," Snyder said. "This is an opportunity to recast a structure that isn't meeting the needs of the city's families for a variety of reasons. Starting with a plan presented by community leaders, we have crafted a new approach that will give families quality public school options while stabilizing district finances."

View: Detroit schools plan

Snyder said solid public schools are essential for the city's revitalization to spread from downtown to the neighborhoods, and all of Michigan benefits when Detroit thrives.

Among the most crippling problems in the schools are enrollment losses, low levels of student achievement and rising debt. Snyder says dramatic structural changes are needed.

A nationwide exam ranked Detroit students last in performances in all U.S. cities.

DPS enrollment has dropped nearly 100,000 students in the past decade, contributing to more than $500 million of operating debt. That figure, combined with borrowing for buildings, puts the district at risk of collapsing financially, Snyder says.

The legislation, set to be introduced this month, builds on recommendations from a broad group of community leaders and educators including the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren and input from Mayor Mike Duggan.

The legislative package includes:

  • Creating a new, traditional public school district -- the Detroit Community School District -- to teach students, with the current Detroit Public Schools district existing only to address the debt. All students, employees, contracts, employee benefits, and assets will move to the new district, which will be governed by a seven-member board initially appointed by the Governor and the Detroit mayor, switching to elected members. An all-elected board would be in place by 2021.
  • Creating a Detroit Education Commission, appointed by the mayor and governor, which engages with the community and hires a chief education officer.
  • Driving academic achievement and increasing access to quality schools by allowing the chief education officer to, with community input, hold low-performing schools accountable and reward and increase the number of high-performing schools.
  • Calling for the chief education officer to operate a common enrollment system with common forms, enrollment periods and notification dates that will help parents identify and evaluate their school options and choose schools that best fit their children's needs.
  • Partnering with the city's current Financial Review Commission to oversee finances until the debt is repaid in full.

The proposal would require help from the state to pay off the existing debt. Currently, debt payments take $1,100 per pupil out of the classroom.

Snyder said the package isn't a quick fix, but offers Detroit students better opportunities to get the quality education they need for a lifetime of learning and success, and that he looks forward to continuing work on these bills with the legislature.

Dan Quisenberry, President of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, released the following statement about Snyder's plan:

"We all agree that every child in Detroit – and every child in Michigan – deserves a great education in a great school. Everything we do should move us closer to that goal. Based on what we've seen, we have concerns with any plan that takes decisions out of the hands of parents, and puts them in the hands of a single, politically appointed person.

We need to raise student achievement in Detroit and solve DPS's financial situation, and from what we've seen and heard, this proposal does neither.

We look forward to seeing the legislation that comes out of this, and having the charter school community continue being an active part of the discussion."

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