Our Editorial: Detroit lawmakers should back DPS

The Detroit News

With widespread teacher sickouts, buildings in poor condition and a district quickly going broke, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has started warming to the governor’s plan to overhaul the finances and governance of Detroit Public Schools. His backing should help sway Detroit lawmakers, and that could speed the process in Lansing.

At this point, the Legislature needs to take some decisive action regarding the district to cover the growing debt burden that’s eating into DPS’ per-pupil funding.

The mayor has gone from one of the chief opponents of the governor’s legislative plan to its most influential backer.

“Lansing needs to act. I appreciated the governor’s comments last night, pushing the Legislature to move,” Duggan said Wednesday, referring to Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address.

Of course, the mayor’s change of heart is also because the Snyder proposal has changed significantly.

When he announced his vision for DPS last April, Snyder had wanted lawmakers to send DPS more than $700 million over 10 years. That money would allow the past debt burden to be paid down while creating a new district that could start fresh with educating kids.

In addition, Snyder proposed several new layers of governance — for both the new Detroit school district, as well as a board that would control the opening and closing of all schools in the city, including charter schools. More than half of the city’s schools are charters.

The governor’s blueprint had also called for heavy state involvement for years into the future. Duggan saw that as Snyder stepping on his turf.

But lawmakers were squeamish about these concepts, and the legislation that was finally introduced last Thursday is very pared down. The bills would direct $250 million toward the formation of a new city school district. But they leave out the concept of a Detroit Education Commission that would have overseen all city schools; the charter school community strongly opposed the idea.

And the bills would also turn control of an appointed school board in Detroit back to an elected one within a year.

Snyder’s education team had worked closely with Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart. As chair of the appropriations subcommittee on K-12 funding, Hansen’s involvement made sense. But he’s also from a small town near Lake Michigan — very far from Detroit.

And many other GOP lawmakers still aren’t eager to get involved with DPS, especially after recent incidents of teacher strikes and other unrest in the district. They don’t want to be seen as rewarding bad behavior.

Getting the Detroit delegation on board would alleviate some of the pressure on Republicans.

Duggan met with Detroit lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon, in an attempt to garner their support.

On Wednesday, Snyder told The Detroit News editorial board Duggan’s backing should help get legislation passed.

“It’s hard to ask out-state lawmakers to vote for it if Detroit lawmakers won’t,” Snyder said.

The current situation at DPS is not sustainable and is in fact deteriorating quickly. Detroit lawmakers should throw their support behind this legislation.