Governor will ask lawmakers to finance Detroit school fix, but it's not clear what state will get for extra aid
Gov. Rick Snyder has his work cut out for him. While he's delayed releasing his vision for Detroit schools by a week, that doesn't give the governor much additional time to find the support he needs from the Legislature — and the community. The biggest question he must answer is how this new round of state intervention will work when other overhauls have failed.
That's what lawmakers who've been briefed on the governor's plan are wondering.
Snyder will be asking for legislation that puts the state on the hook for a large part of Detroit Public Schools' debt. The Legislature, and taxpayers, will be eager to know what they'll get in return for the investment.
That merits a good answer. Six years of emergency management haven't worked to get DPS out from under its debt and poor academic performance.
Snyder wants to split DPS into two "companies," one that will serve only to pay down the long-term debt, and another to focus on educating students.
By creating these two entities, the old company would use the 18 non-homestead mills collected in the district solely for debt payments. But the state would then be expected to reimburse the district for the lost local funding, at a price-tag of $70 million a year.
That's a hefty sum, and it would come out of the School Aid Fund, which is already stretched.
The Citizens Research Council estimates it will result in a statewide reduction in the foundation grant of $50 per-pupil.
Don't expect other districts, many of which are also struggling, to applaud that solution.
Creating two companies is one of Snyder's better ideas, and similar models have helped other districts in Michigan, including Muskegon Heights and Highland Park, pay down their debt.
To protect the state investment, the governor wants to form several new layers of oversight.
The current, elected school board would move to the old company and remain under emergency management, and a new board would be appointed to oversee the new district — at least until the debt is payed down. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and possibly the governor, would be responsible for those appointments.
But the governor also envisions another layer: the Detroit Education Commission, which would also be appointed by Duggan and Snyder.
That commission would oversee all schools in the city, including charters, and be responsible for monitoring school quality, common enrollment and the opening and closing of schools.
A major piece that seems to be missing from the governor's plan is transportation. Detroit's school choice landscape is complicated and many neighborhoods don't have quality schools nearby, forcing parents on long, daily journeys just to get their children to school. To make choice work, families need better school transportation.
It's a big task to tackle, but this is the time to do it.
Snyder may face opposition from the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, the 36-member group that came out with its own recommendations a few weeks ago.
The coalition has a very different approach, which centers on a state bailout for DPS and returning control to the elected school board.
But the governor's most pressing task in the next week is clarifying how any new plan for Detroit schools will succeed where past plans have failed.