Editorial: Return Detroit Public Schools to local control, end state oversight
The clamor for local control of Detroit Public Schools is building, and it now seems inevitable that if a deal on restructuring education in the city is to be reached, an elected DPS board will have to be restored. There’s no credible argument to keep the system under state management.
After seven years of emergency management and 15 years of off and on state control, DPS remains financially unstable. And while enrollment losses have tapered off, more than half of the children in the city attend charter, private or suburban schools. Bringing those students back will require enormous improvement in academic performance, safety and building conditions.
Tonya Allen, president of the Skilman Foundation and co-chair of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, said Friday, “Reforming Detroit is a long-term endeavor that Detroiters must lead.”
Allen, who declined an offer by Gov. Rick Snyder to become the interim superintendent of DPS, wants the new leader selected by “those closest to the kids.”
The governor is backing a plan in the Senate that would pay off $720 million in DPS debt and allow Detroiters to elect a new school board this fall. The House offered a version of the legislation that would keep DPS under state oversight for another eight years.
It is not in the state’s interest to continue managing Detroit’s schools. Its efforts have not produced the promised results.
The best course is for the Legislature to approve paying off the DPS debt—like it or not, it belongs to the state —and extricate the state from day-to-day control of the district.
The only caveats should be that limits be placed on the ability of DPS to accumulate future debt, and assurances given that parents will have adequate school choice for their children.
Allen, Mayor Mike Duggan and others in Detroit are seeking a Detroit Education Commission, appointed by the mayor, that would ride watchdog on the school board. That feature is not in the Senate legislation.
And it’s not likely to emerge from the Legislature in the form Detroiters desire. Charter schools are rightly woried they will suffer if a mayor-appointed commission is given the power to decide which schools open and close.
The best that can be hoped for is an ongoing financial advisory board, like the one in place for the city of Detroit, that will keep the finances on track.
Lawmakers can and should strengthen standards for charter school operators to assure they are delivering quality eduction. Beyond that, it’s up to Detroit’s parents and civic leaders to reform education in Detroit and make DPS competitive.
That will start with recruiting qualified candidates for the restored school board and working to get them elected. The Detroit school board in the past has ranked among the worst elected bodies in the state. Competent and committed leadership is vital if DPS is to survive.
It is time the Detroit Public Schools return to local control. And when it does, the responsibility for getting education right for Detroit children will return to the city as well.