Editor’s Note: Detroit school closures back in play

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

The latest example of the growing rift between Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette is playing out over the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

The issue is over whether legislation passed this summer to bail out Detroit Public Schools and create a new district free from debt allows the state to step in and close the worst district schools — and there are some really bad ones.

Republican lawmakers who backed the intervention specifically wrote the bill to allow for the closure of failing schools.

Yet an August memo from the Miller Canfield law firm indicated that since lawmakers had created a new district (for legal purposes only), the clock on measuring the performance of schools got reset this summer. That means no district schools in Detroit could close until 2019.

Snyder went along with the memo, but Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and House Speaker Kevin Cotter were irked at that interpretation and asked Schuette to weigh in.

So he did. On Wednesday, Schuette said the lowest performing Detroit schools are subject to closure by the end of the current academic year. To meet the closure standards, schools have to be on the list for three years. That’s true for schools statewide, but the School Reform Office has yet to close any public school for academic reasons.

Lawmakers had hoped to encourage more accountability with the Detroit legislation.

“The law is clear: Michigan parents and their children do not have to be stuck indefinitely in a failing school,” Schuette said in a statement. “Detroit students and parents deserve accountability and high performing schools. If a child can’t spell opportunity, they won’t have opportunity.”

This official legal opinion from the state’s top lawyer trumps the Miller Canfield memo. While it will take hard work to close some of these schools and ensure there are viable alternatives for students attending them, if this isn’t done, the $617 million state investment in Detroit schools will be for nothing.