At Mackinac, let’s talk about what’s best for our kids
As leaders from the city, region and state converge on Mackinac Island next week, there’s going to be a great deal of attention on K-12 education in Detroit. As those conversations take place, let’s focus that discussion on what is best for our children.
The sad truth is that too much of the deliberations on education get hung up on adult issues and adult controversies rather than focusing on the needs of our children. That is true whether we are talking about governance, school funding, charter schools, teacher-pupil ratios or any of the many other issues that confront us.
Nothing is more important to the future of this city than the education of our children. If we do not equip them with the skills they need to find meaningful employment and compete in a 21st century economy, all the investment and all the progress we see around us will be for naught.
But the challenge before us is huge.
It is a fact that the demands of urban schools are simply larger because they are dealing with issues of poverty that don’t exist in more affluent districts. The scope of poverty is illustrated by the fact that in Detroit, 80 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced breakfast and lunch programs. Where did these children eat when over 90 Detroit schools were closed due to walkouts?
And DPS is saddled with a debt burden that is disproportionately higher than anywhere else, which significantly drains the per pupil funding the district receives.
There was a major step forward in March when the Michigan Senate, with bipartisan support, passed legislation that addresses the debt the Detroit Public Schools accumulated while under state control and at the same time provided for return of control of the schools to Detroiters. It also created a Detroit Education Commission that would help assure that schools in Detroit are located where they are needed.
It was truly exciting to see our governor and our myor and a bipartisan coalition working to fashion a package of bills that was focused on the needs of children.
But the House passed a separate bill that reduced the amount of funds that would be available to Detroit to address its debt while including provisions such as one that would allow uncertified teachers to teach in Detroit. The state treasurer issued a report that said, in effect, that the House bill would be setting DPS up for failure.
When it comes to not focusing on what’s best for children, there is enough blame to go around.
For 12 consecutive years, Strategic Staffing Solutions Inc., has organized a career day at Clippert Academy in southwest Detroit. We bring in professionals from a wide variety of fields to talk to kids about possible career opportunities and what it takes to succeed in that particular career.
But some members of the faculty were upset with a couple of our speakers this year — a conservative newspaper editor and an educator who represented the Teach for America program. So they primed fifth grade students to, in effect, heckle the two speakers. What could have been an enlightening educational experience was turned into an outlet for the faculty’s frustrations. The students were treated as pawns, not as students who might gain some valuable insights when deciding their future.
Our state constitution says every child has the right to a quality education. That education should be available to them at their neighborhood school.
As we move forward, we need to put this kind of narrow-minded focus on self-interest behind us and ask one question: “What is in the best interest of the children with whose education we have been entrusted?”
Let’s not worry about the politics. Let’s not worry about what might be in it for us. Let’s worry about the kids and about doing everything we can to guarantee their future by giving them an environment that truly nourishes them intellectually, helping each of them to realize their full potential.
Cynthia Pasky, president and CEO of Strategic Staffing Solutions, is chair of the Downtown Detroit Partnership.