By David Hecker, Michigan League for Public Policy Board Member and President of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan
For the past year, the future of Detroit Public Schools (DPS) has been in doubt. With a massive debt run up under state control, the education of 47,000 children has been hanging in the balance.
Last night, with only Republican votes, the Senate passed the House plan for Detroit Public Schools—which falls far short of what DPS students deserve. However, under this legislation, which now goes to the Governor’s office for his signature, the state is paying the debt and providing some additional capital, DPS employees keep their jobs and their union representation, DPS returns to an elected school board in January, which, while not fully empowered, will have decision making powers on many important issues, and EAA schools will eventually return to the District. Detroit Public Schools, now to be known as the Detroit Community School District, will be open in September.
The House plan that will be law is an improvement over the original House plan that provided a lower investment in DPS, forced DPS employees to reapply for their jobs, and eliminated union representation.
Having said this, the House and now Senate plan that will soon be law is extremely flawed. It provides inadequate funding, raises the stakes of standardized testing with its proposed school accountability system and requirement that new hires (in the Detroit Community School District only) be paid based primarily on merit—not allowing the use of experience and education level—and allows noncertified people to teach, without any requirements for education, experience or preparation—again, only in Detroit schools.
These bills allow the privatization of teachers in schools that were in the EAA (which are supposed to return to the Detroit Community School District), and make it easier to punish educators who speak out in a manner that is determined to be a strike.
And under this soon to be law, charter schools will continue to be allowed to open up wherever and whenever they want with no increase in accountability.
Unfortunately, the Senate abandoned its own Detroit education bill, which was crafted with bipartisan support and backed by labor, parents, civic, religious and business leaders, education organizations and the Mayor of Detroit. Instead, the Senate voted for the House plan.
Governor Rick Snyder, who had originally supported the Senate plan—one that is a fair reflection of the recommendations of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren—also succumbed to the wishes of Speaker Kevin Cotter and his benefactors, Dick and Betsy DeVos. This is people playing political games while showing an utter disregard for children’s futures.
The bills passed both Houses with only Republican votes, meaning all Detroit legislators voted against the bills. Therefore, these bills are a statement by non-Detroit Republicans that they know what is best for Detroit, a city whose population is overwhelmingly people of color. It is a continuation of the attitude that has resulted in Detroit Public Schools’ massive debt, low academic performance, and “wild west” system of school openings throughout the city.
While some Republicans voted with us (and advocated for us), this legislation happened because the Republicans control the Senate 27-10 and the House 63-46. We must retake the House in this November’s election.
Fortunately, for the children of Detroit, no piece of legislation—no matter how bad, no matter how inadequate—will stop Detroit educators from giving their all for the city’s students. Regardless of the challenges, we’ll move forward with this upcoming school year with a renewed vigor to make sure students receive the best education possible. Educators will continue to go the extra mile to make up for the Legislature’s failure.
Thank you to so, so many members, parents, students, unions, clergy, community leaders, statewide school management associations, many business leaders and Mayor Duggan who fought for the schools Detroit’s children deserve. Our members meeting with and calling legislators, writing letters, phone banking every night to build support, and telling your stories made a difference. Just consider the changes from the first to the second House plan.
At the national, state and local levels our union and our teachers never gave up. And we never will.
— David Hecker