Bankole: Speaker Cotter wrong on DPS

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

House Speaker Kevin Cotter has thrown a monkey wrench into the plan to save the Detroit Public Schools. He finally made it clear Thursday that any effort to rescue DPS should not affect charter schools. Thus, he would not be supporting the Senate plan that calls for the creation of a Detroit Education Commission, whose mission would also include limiting charters in the city of Detroit.

This announcement from the man responsible for bringing legislation for a vote on the House floor does not hold water and is yet another sign there is more politicking and imposition from politicians in Lansing than squarely doing what will benefit the children of Detroit.

“This package cannot be about saving an entity. It can’t be about saving Detroit Public Schools. It has to be about improving education for all students, irrespective of where they attend school,” Cotter said in The Detroit News.

But why did Cotter wait this long to come out against the DPS plan? The House’s $500 million package to wipe out the debt of the district has been widely condemned in Detroit as insufficient, and viewed as a setup for the district to fail because it provides no additional funding to establish a new Detroit Community School District that would be created after August when DPS is expected to run out of money.

To now have the speaker of the House double down on that wrong-headed House package by opposing any sort of meaningful rescue and using charters as his trump card isn’t leadership. The Detroit Education Commission would not end the operation of charters. It simply limits them because repeated studies have shown that charter schools are not performing any better than public schools.

While there are some good charter schools like Old Redford Academy High helping students succeed academically, there are others that are failing children in the city.

Demanding more choices for education in Detroit should not mean bad choices for Detroit children, and the commission should have the power to weed out the bad apples among these public school academies in the city.

Since 1994 when the state opened the floodgates to charter schools, Detroit has seen more public school academies than any other city in the state. About 72 of the publicly funded charter schools have since opened in Detroit, according to the Michigan Capitol Confidential, a newsletter published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

In making his case against the Senate plan, Cotter said, “if Burger King is struggling to sell hamburgers, the answer is not to close down McDonald’s and Wendy’s. But rather, Burger King needs to raise their game. They need to improve the quality of the product they’re putting out there ...”

If the Burger King analogy is the best defense the speaker can put up to explain his reluctance to back the Senate package, a bipartisan measure that already has the support of a diverse group of city stakeholders, including business leaders, the Detroit Federation of Teachers and others, then Cotter is clearly tone deaf to the education crisis in Detroit.

Most importantly you can’t use Burger King and McDonald’s as examples because these are global chains in the free market system with their mores and customs that uphold the value of private enterprise. On the other hand, education being an essential need for the stability and growth for every community, it should not be a matter of survival of the fittest or who profits the most.

Moreover, the education debate in Detroit is about how a taxpayer-funded district was run by state-appointed emergency managers who worsened the financial conditions of the school system that is attended by mostly poor children. And Detroiters are simply asking the state, including Cotter, to remedy those wrongs and give children in this city a chance to succeed.

While we need serious reforms in education to deliver more meaningful learning experiences and competitive choices for children, it should not be a situation where public dollars have to be siphoned away to for-profit entities that often fail the test of performance.

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on Super Station 910-AM at noon Fridays. His column appears Mondays and Thursdays.