Editorial: Follow through on Detroit school reform

The Detroit News

A year ago, the Michigan Legislature passed legislation bailing out Detroit Public Schools, sending a $617 million lifeline to the financially failing district. The law sought to address many of the district’s challenges, not just the monetary ones. Yet a year later, several key provisions are not being implemented.

While not perfect legislation, lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder’s team worked hard to come up with a plan that would give Detroit schools a fresh financial start, in addition to turning back control to a locally elected school board.

But they also designed the law to weed out some of the city’s worst schools and facilitate more coordination between district schools and the many charters in Detroit. It’s those pieces of the legislation that have been ignored.

That’s a problem.

Lawmakers tasked the School Reform Office with several important roles, including closing Detroit’s failing schools and putting in place an A-F grading system for all Detroit schools, both traditional public schools and charters.

After some legal wrangling last year, the SRO began the process of closing 25 buildings in Detroit. But officials handled it so poorly the effort backfired, leaving all of these schools open indefinitely.

And the reform office has yet to come out with its grading system. The Legislature should have made the A-F accountability scale apply to schools statewide, but given the taxpayer investment in Detroit schools, and the significant academic challenges facing the district, it’s still a worthy plan.

The law also called for the creation of a six-member advisory council, comprised equally of charter and district representatives. This was seen as an alternative to the city education commission that Mayor Mike Duggan and many others, including Snyder, had fought for in the legislation.

Duggan, who earlier this month said he was interested in revisiting the idea with lawmakers, wanted to appoint all member of the commission. The idea was to give this board broad authority over how and where schools could open in Detroit, as well as offer more quality controls.

School choice advocates never liked the idea, however, since they feared a mayor-appointed commission could work against charter schools in favor of district schools.

So the advisory council is a decent compromise, and that at least should be put in place. Snyder is planning to meet with new Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti this week, and the governor reportedly will encourage Vitti to act on the council.

Once it’s created, the council is supposed to prepare an annual report on building facilities and current and planned schools, and this could help ensure that families in neighborhoods around the city have access to a decent school.

This certainly isn’t the first time laws have gotten tossed aside, but the success of Detroit schools is vital to the city’s growth. State and district officials should follow through on these parts of the law.