Coalition Calls for Local Control, Broad Reform of Detroit Schools

Coalition Calls for Local Control, Broad Reform of Detroit Schools

To improve the quality of education in Detroit Public Schools, the system's governance should be returned to local control and its debt assumed by the state, a report from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren recommends.

The report, The Choice Is Ours (28 pages, PDF), argues that, after six years of emergency management, DPS should be governed by an elected school board and that the state is statutorily liable for the district's debt, much of it incurred to pay for an expensive retirement system DPS did not design while it was under state control. Representing a cross-section of education, civic, business, religious, labor, and community leaders, the coalition also calls for the creation of a nonpartisan Detroit Education Commission to coordinate citywide education functions and stabilize the system; improved transparency from charter school authorizers; funding allocation based on student need; and a strategy to recruit, develop, competitively compensate, and retain high-quality educators across all schools.

"It's time to return control of Detroit Public Schools to Detroiters," said Angela Reyes, coalition co-chair and executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. "Emergency management has proven to be a failure in Detroit. The state, as set out in state law, needs to responsibly transition control of DPS back to an elected school board."

The recommendations have drawn criticism, including claims that they are unlikely to improve academic performance district-wide; that simply returning DPS to local control won't lead to improvement in its management; and that DPS doesn't deserve a bailout. Skillman Foundation CEO and coalition co-chair Tonya Allen has responded to the criticisms in a series of blog posts in which she points to data showing that a major factor behind falling district test scores is the lack of stability in DPS schools, something the recommendations seek to address. Allen also argues that  the state is contractually liable for the debt created under its management; the state-approved bond series now costs the district $53 million annually and about $1,200 per schoolchild in per-pupil allocation. "[T]he kids are paying for it with a poor and crippling school district," Allen wrote in one post. "The kids with the most needs are getting the least impact from state dollars."

"The Detroit Education Commission will stabilize the educational environment and provide a foundation for improving Detroit schools," said David Hecker, coalition co-chair and president of AFT Michigan/AFL-CIO. "This will ensure that we have a coordinated system of schools that adhere the same standards, benefits from shared services, and compete on a level playing field."

Tonya Allen. "Part 1: Tonya Allen Answers Critics of CFDS Recommendations." Skillman Foundation Blog Post 04/01/2015. Tonya Allen. "Part 2: Tonya Allen Answers Critics of CFDS Recommendations ." Skillman Foundation Blog Post 04/01/2015. "Detroit Coalition Recommends Comprehensive Changes to Improve Education Landscape for All Students." Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren Press Release 03/30/2015.