Submitted by Representative Tim Kelly, Chair
House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and Member, House Education Committee
Governor Rick Snyder has focused significant attention on the plight of children attending public schools in the City of Detroit.
Early this summer, the Governor issued a proposal to both provide a state funded method of saving the financially failed Detroit Public Schools (“DPS”) and to significantly recentralize control of all Detroit public education under the Governor’s ultimate control. In making his announcement, the Governor indicated he looked forward to discussing the proposals with his “partners in the Legislature.”
The Governor’s announcement indicated he understood that it is the state legislature that is charged under the Constitution to “maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools as defined by law.”
In the Michigan House of Representatives, it is the House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid and the standing Committee on Education that have primary responsibility for designing and funding the public education system of the state, including the City of Detroit.
With that understanding and in response to the Governor’s invitation, the following series of proposals are submitted for consideration as the Legislature focuses on the situation of the Detroit public schools and the 3.2% of the state’s children who attend DPS.
As more fully described, there are alternative strategies to the centralized structure the Governor proposes. I believe that better outcomes may come through robust education choice directed by pupils and their parents and guardians.
Early in his term as governor, Mr. Snyder endorsed innovation and choice in public education:
Michigan needs to drive toward a system of higher expectations for its system of schools and educators. We need a performance-based education system that will meet the 21st century education needs of all students. Innovation and educational entrepreneurship must be cultivated through improved models of instruction across the state. There must be greater choice for students and parents and greater responsibility and accountability at the individual school level for student growth.
In order to create dynamic, performance-based school districts in Michigan we need to challenge the status quo. Charter schools play an important role by offering an alternative education option to parents and students, particularly in our struggling districts. We need to increase the number of charter schools in Michigan to help attract the top charter operators from across the nation and encourage more choice at the local level.
Today, I am proposing a new ―Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace public school learning model. Michigan’s state foundation allowance should not be exclusively tied to the school district a child attends. Instead, funding needs to follow the student. This will help facilitate dual enrollment, blended learning, on-line education and early college attendance. Education opportunities should be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
A model of proficiency-based funding rather than ― seat time requirements will foster more free market ideas for public schools in Michigan. This includes mandatory ― schools of choice for every public school district. Providing open access to a quality education without boundaries is essential. Resident students in every district should have first choice to enroll, but no longer should school districts be allowed to opt out from accepting out-of-district students. In the event more out-of-district students wish to enroll than space allows, the school should conduct a random lottery to determine acceptance. I will propose legislation to accomplish this change.
By introducing an education system that offers unfettered flexibility and adaptability for student learning models and styles, we will break down the status quo on how, when, and where students learn.
We must minimize all state and local barriers that hinder innovation at the local level, including seat time regulations, length of school year, length of school day and week, and the traditional configurations of classrooms and instruction. Blended learning models, where students receive instruction from high quality online educators, along with face-to-face instruction from high quality classroom teachers should be encouraged. School districts that embed technology into blended classroom instruction or embrace total online learning, project-based learning, and experiential learning models will make the system more cost-efficient, competitive, innovative, and effective in motivating student achievement.
But for the City of Detroit, the Governor has since abandoned his announced education policy and replaced it with a command and control education policy reminiscent of the old big city monopoly districts of the last century.
After his 2011 Message, the Governor established the Education Achievement Authority (“EAA”) and in announcing the new initiative said:
The academic progress in our state’s largest district was unacceptable.
We know that a strong public school system will be an important part of Detroit’s comeback, as well as our state’s resurgence. That effort is well underway on multiple fronts.
We also know that what we were doing was not working — for whatever reason — for too many students and for too many years.
During his entire tenure, the Detroit Public Schools (“DPS”) has been under the control of a series of state-appointed emergency managers.
The Detroit-based Skillman Foundation created a self-appointed group of Detroit “stakeholders” to address the continuing failure of the DPS. The Governor announced he would accept the Skillman Coalition Report as the basis for developing his own proposals for Detroit schools. On April 30 he introduced his own plan saying, in part, in a press release:
DETROIT, Mich. – Detroit children can’t succeed when their schools are struggling academically and the district is struggling with crushing debt, Gov. Rick Snyder said today as he outlined a plan to dramatically restructure the city’s public schools to improve education and finances.
Snyder is proposing a holistic approach that includes recommendations from a community coalition and addresses accountability and higher standards for all schools.
Snyder said the Detroit Public Schools has reached a crisis point where systemic change is needed. Enrollment has dropped by nearly 100,000
students in the last decade. The district has accumulated about $483 million in debt. Test scores of all Detroit high schoolers show that just 6 percent of high school students are proficient in math and 4 percent are proficient in science. Two-thirds are not proficient in reading.
Under the plan…
A new district – the City of Detroit Education District – would operate the schools under the management of a seven-member school board of Detroit residents initially appointed by the mayor and governor….
A new Detroit Education Commission, a five-member board jointly appointed by the mayor and governor, would serve as an umbrella organization that hires an education manager who would oversee all traditional and charter public schools in the city, review performance and determine timelines for poorly performing schools to show improvement or be closed. The person would manage universal services, such as security, for all buildings.
Additionally, this Detroit education manager would oversee a universal enrollment system that will give students an equal chance at attending the school of their choice, be it a traditional or charter public school.
The Detroit Public Schools would use the existing local millage – about $72 million per year – to pay off debt. The state would need to provide funding for the new district to offset the loss of the locally generated money with up to $72 million annually until the existing district’s debt is repaid.
The plan isn’t a bailout, but rather an effort to address the Detroit Public Schools’ debt while making systemic changes to ensure the problems of the past will not be repeated while ensuring other districts across the state are not hurt.
Snyder said some aspects of the plan would require changes in state law, and he is looking forward to working with his partners in the Legislature as well as leaders in Detroit on the efforts to help all families in the city and the state as a whole. The legislation is planned to be introduced within two weeks.
After more than five months, the bills are about to be introduced and some members of the Legislature have seen draft bills and have been briefed on certain aspects of the Governor’s proposals.
This document is designed to outline a different approach to the Detroit schools issue that both addresses the DPS challenge and preserves and enhances education choice. It is intended to take up the offer of the Governor to “work with his partners in the Legislature” on this important issue.
In 2010, the Skillman Foundation released a Report introduced as follows:
Excellent Schools Detroit represents a broad and diverse cross section of Detroit’s education, government, civic and community, parent, organized labor, and philanthropic leaders who are committed to ensuring that all Detroit children receive the great education they deserve.
This citywide education plan reflects months of discussions and deliberations by coalition members, as well as a series of six community meetings in November and December, youth focus groups, small group discussions with multiple stakeholders, and other outreach efforts. We appreciate the thoughtful recommendations from the many Detroiters who are as passionate as we are about the need to prepare all students for college, careers, and life in the 21st century.
In 2014, Skillman again created a group to address Detroit school issues, calling it the “Detroit Schools Coalition,” which released a number of “Official Recommendations.” The proposals were designed “to stabilize the public school infrastructure” in Detroit.
The Coalition decided not to draft legislation to implement their proposals and instead decided to work with Governor Snyder on his similar proposals. The primary differences between the Governor’s proposals and the Coalition proposals are the Coalition’s position that the DPS School Board should be restored to power, the EAA abolished and the emergency manager should be dismissed.
But both the Governor and the Coalition have proposed state taxpayer bailout of the DPS and the recentralization of control.
While later in the paper, I take issue with the Governor’s anti-education choice proposals, there are elements that that deserve support, particularly those dealing with the DPS.
The Governor’s proposal to address the impending insolvency of the DPS makes sense. The Governor proposes an OldCo/NewCo model, similar to that used in the GM bankruptcy and other corporate restructurings, to address both the DPS insolvency and the need to continue to provide public schools for Detroit residents:
I reject the assertion of the Skillman Coalition that “the state” is solely responsible for the DPS fiscal mess. There is plenty of blame to go around for the DPS mess.
I also reject the Governor’s notion that “the plan isn’t a bailout.” Clearly, under the Governor’s plan state taxpayer money (and future increases) is proposed to be taken away from districts statewide to support, or bail out, the DPS. Given the source of the funds, it is hard to believe that the proposals will ensure “other districts across the state are not hurt.”
The taxpaying public and non-Detroit school districts deserve the straight story. This will be an important subject of House Appropriations Subcommittee on School Aid hearings.
However, insofar as the proposal is also an effort to address the Detroit Public Schools’ debt while making systemic changes to ensure the problems of the past will not be repeated, it may make it the least bad alternative.
The DPS is responsible for only about 3.2% of Michigan’s public school pupils. But public schools are a state responsibility and the state’s constitutional obligation is to establish a statewide system of schools and provide the level of funding it determines for public schools.
Also, it is clear that education is not a fundamental right with a right to unlimited funding. Recently, in ACLU v State of Michigan, the Michigan Court of Appeals[i] restated what has long been the law — Education Is Not a Fundamental Right.
The courts have long recognized that, for constitutional purposes, “education, as important as it may be, has been held not to be a fundamental interest.” … Further, as our Supreme Court observed in Milliken v Green, 390 Mich 389, 406; 212 NW2d 711 (1973):
It must be apparent by now that we are of the opinion that the state’s obligation to provide a system of public schools is not the same as the claimed obligation to provide equality of educational opportunity. Because of definitional difficulties and differences in educational philosophy and student ability, motivation, background, etc., no system of public schools can provide equality of educational opportunity in all its diverse dimensions. All that can properly be expected of the state is that it maintain and support a system of public schools that furnishes adequate educational services to all children.
In sum, the cited provisions of the Michigan Constitution require only that the Legislature provide for and finance a system of free public schools. The Michigan Constitution leaves the actual intricacies of the delivery of specific educational services to the local school districts.
The Governor’s proposal to replace the DPS with a debt free, state funded DED does address and potentially halt the continuing overspending. But merely changing the governance does not assure any significant improvement in academic performance.
And his proposals to centralize all Detroit public schools under what he calls an “Education Manager” (and common political parlance calls a “Czar[ii]”) are exercises of state political power, not education policy.
Under former Governor Jennifer Granholm, the Legislature created the State Reform/Redesign District and Officer as part of the federal Race to the Top process for federal money.
The Michigan Department of Education never implemented the provision by seeking to close any failing schools.
Governor Snyder, by Executive Order 2015-9, moved the duties, functions and responsibilities of the State School Reform/Redesign Officer from the Michigan Department of Education to a new State Reform Office created in the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (“DTMB”).
Under the Reform/Redesign District language, schools are placed under the supervision of the State School Reform/Redesign Office as a result of being identified as the lowest achieving five percent of schools in the state.
The lowest achieving 5% does not now include failing DPS schools because they are under control of an emergency manager. It does apply to Detroit-based public school academies, urban high schools and schools of excellence in the lowest 5 percent. The MDE now designates the lowest achieving five percent of schools as “Priority Schools.”
According to the MDE website, the goals of the Reform/Redesign Office are:
Under the EO, the duties of the Officer are transferred from the State Superintendent to a person hired by the Director of DTMB (who is appointed by the Governor).
The Governor, now that he has assumed full control of the Reform/Redesign Office, should aggressively implement the law the Legislature passed in January of 2004.
Much of the rhetoric against charter schools and education choice is ideological, not based solely on performance. For example, the Skillman Foundation is quoted as saying:
Charter schools, plagued by a flawed state authorizing system that allows mediocre academic performance and little financial transparency for public dollars, offer little hope.
But it is true that Michigan’s charter school process has not always lived up to its promise and there is a need to more aggressively change or close nonperforming charters.
From an education policy approach, the issue is not how many charters have been closed, but how many underperforming schools of all types remain? There are too many and the legislature should revisit the standards for minimum charter school operating authority.
The goal should be to improve on the educational choice policies that have led more than half of the Detroit residents choosing to go to a Detroit public school to choose a charter school. And many have selected charter schools outside the boundaries of Detroit.
The proposals in this Paper suggest that different and creative models of public education be considered to increase the number of successful public schools in the City.
Michigan has been a “local control” state for most of its history with performance standards set by locally elected school boards.
But the state has increased its intervention in local school performance in recent years with:
The Governor’s proposal, as well as the Skillman Coalition Report, would create a separate set of Detroit-only citywide standards for all Detroit-based school buildings, including DPS/DED schools, EAA schools and charter schools.
The legislature should not defer its authority and that of the State Board of Education to local political forces in Detroit to establish separate Detroit-only education policies and standards. Education policy is and should remain a state function.
The Governor has been a strong proponent of new developments in student centered learning. These new approaches to learning should be supported by the legislature and progressive school officials. The legislature has already made significant investments in the technology infrastructure that is essential for effective student centered learning. The following are key principles of a student centered learning approach:
The benefits of student centered learning do not apply only to the City of Detroit; they can benefit students, teachers and public schools statewide.
The Michigan Legislature has already provided significant funding for the Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grant (“TRIG”) program in the MDE.
The Legislature should also address efforts to encourage teacher-training programs that support student centered learning and to provide waivers from the prescriptive requirements that limit better learning outcomes.
The A-F Grading System for schools has been considered for years. I am encouraged by the Governor including this concept in his proposals.
The Governor’s draft bill suggests that the state superintendent shall:
Waive any otherwise applicable requirements placed on a [Detroit] school under this [School Code] act, the state school aid act…or a rule promulgated under this [School Code] or the state school aid act.
Under the draft reviewed, no process is provided for applying for or receiving the waivers. It is also unclear whether the Education Manager can apply or revoke the waivers on a school-by-school basis, using them to reward cooperative or punish uncooperative schools.
This section could be one of the most important elements of the bill because it applies to “any applicable requirements.” Most education regulations have some supporter or advocate that will oppose any waiver. In addition, many state education regulations are imposed, in part, by federal mandates. Finally, parents and education officials outside Detroit can reasonably ask why Detroit gets the benefit of the waiver and the rest of the state does not.
I urge the Governor to explain in more detail his concept of regulatory waiver.
While I strongly reject and oppose the Skillman Coalition anti-charter and centralized control proposals, the Coalition has worked on a long series of changes they propose for Detroit schools. Subject to seeing the specifics of what the Coalition proposes, I am prepared to consider the following from their list of Official Proposals:
The Legislature has its own views on education policy and is the branch of government given the primary responsibility to design and fund the public education system. Thus, while I appreciate the Governor’s leadership in addressing in the Detroit schools issue, the Legislature will also advance its own education policy priorities.
For 20 years Michigan has delivered its mandatory enrollment, state-funded K-12 public school system through an Educational Choice Model. In addition to charter schools, Michigan’s school districts operate a wide range of alternative schools and engage in robust cross-district enrollment to provide educational choices for pupils and parents.
Perhaps no area has made greater use of education choice than residents of the City of Detroit. Facing the financial and academic collapse of many (but not all) DPS schools, Detroit residents have made their wishes clear:
Unfortunately, in addressing the very real challenges of the DPS, Governor Snyder and the Skillman Coalition have attempted to “save” the DPS system by severely restricting and centralizing control over charter schools and parent choice in Detroit and adjacent districts.
I believe the state can address the DPS challenges without abandoning opportunities for educational choice. Instead, I propose to address that real deficiencies in Michigan’s charter and choice systems and create even more opportunities for alternative educational strategies for Detroiters.
In contrast to the centralization strategy being proposed by the executive branch, the following is proposed as a policy framework for the legislature as it begins its deliberations:
Within available resources, the parent or legal guardian of each child is entitled to choose among available public or nonpublic schools for some or all of the education necessary to develop the child’s intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.
Where the parent/student choice model is not working, it should be fixed, not thrown out to revert to the old monopoly structure of the last century.
Instead, the legislature should advance an effective education choice approach throughout the state, including a serious look at these concepts:
What follows are responses to certain elements of the Governor’s proposal followed by our high priority proposals.
I reject the central Education Manager approach for Detroit. It is a significant step backwards, because it re-establishes district “ownership” of students. I believe it is unfair and untenable and will be politically unpalatable when it is revealed to be limitations on Detroit parents but not on others in the state. Proponents of this approach should consider the optics of one set of rules (more restrictive) for Detroit parents, but another set of rules for all other parents.
I reject the proposal for total control of school enrollment by a single politically appointed Education Manager. The Governor’s proposal treats all school “seats” alike and is more focused on filling seats in underutilized DPS schools that giving parents and students the capacity for choice through which more than half of the Detroit-resident students have selected charters.
I believe Detroiters also have rights under Section 10 of the Revised School Code:
It is the natural, fundamental right of parents and legal guardians to determine and direct the care, teaching, and education of their children. The public schools of this state serve the needs of the pupils by cooperating with the pupil’s parents and legal guardians to develop the pupil’s intellectual capabilities and vocational skills in a safe and positive environment.
Not every school is the same. Each school has its emphasis and culture and may appeal to some and not other parents and pupils. If the goal is to keep Detroit young people in school, assigning them through a centralized bureaucracy and computer algorithms is not the way to do it.
However, I support a common enrollment timeline for all schools in Detroit. In addition, all Detroit public and private schools should be encouraged to participate in a voluntary program to help educate Detroiters as to the diversity and opportunities in City schools. Such a “clearing house” as opposed to a mandatory enrollment system can better serve the public and the schools.
The Governor’s announced proposal is to solve the DPS problems, in part, by reaching out and imposing controls on some suburban schools and districts simply because they are providing education opportunities to too many Detroiters. We should simply reject this idea.
It is surprising that the administration would propose this approach on the 50th Anniversary of Milliken v. Bradley[iii], the United States Supreme Court case dealing with the planned desegregation busing of public school students across district lines among 53 school districts in metropolitan Detroit.
The legislature should use the opportunity presented by the Detroit schools crisis to enact more positive changes in Michigan laws to enhance educational opportunity and choice. I will submit proposals to accomplish the following:
The Constitutionally-guaranteed commitment of Michigan taxpayers to each family of a school aged child resident in the State is significant – approximately $7,200 per year for 12 years or over $86,000. Public funding of education through K-14 would provide a benefit of more than $100,000 per pupil in 2015 dollars.
When the Clinton Administration was promoting the delivery of government benefits from a then-named Electronic Benefits Transfer (“EBT”) card, Governor John Engler proposed, but was unable to pursue, the idea of delivering the new school choice per pupil funding guarantees through an “Education Opportunity Card” similar to the welfare based EBT card. With the changes in technology over 20 years, and the need to refresh education choice, the Education Opportunity Card concept (now probably be a smart phone “app”) should be revisited.
Rather than force some Detroit parents to move out of the City for challenging education opportunities, the law should allow the establishment of specialized, high standards and challenging environment for those families that demand a better service from their public school by allowing a combination of public funds and tuition/tax credits for people willing to invest to improve their own public school. These specialized schools would be public schools with enhanced funding and would remain under the ultimate and immediate control of state education authorities. The policy should also allow school districts and charter schools to enroll tuition paying out-of-state pupils.
Students should be able to choose (without the need for their home district’s approval) to participate in any program approved by any school district in the state. Districts may partner with community organizations, other government entities or private organizations to provide educational services that students may use to meet their ILP goals and demonstrate mastery of core competencies.
Michigan should adopt the most advanced state law to encourage the effective use of business and professional people and faculty members of state universities or community colleges with subject matter teaching experience. Adjunct instructors should have a valid “adjunct instructor certificate” issued by the superintendent of public instruction and be subject to appropriate oversight of Master Teachers. Successful completion of college level equivalent courses must be granted credit and count toward graduation and subject area requirements.
In addition, the School Code should be amended to assure that our returning veterans, particularly those you have been engaged in providing military training, have a way to use that experience in joining the ranks of professional teachers in public schools.
Students should be able to progress by demonstrating mastery of standard competencies outlined in the Michigan Merit Curriculum and Common Core Standards. These competencies may be demonstrated through end-of-course exams, but also may be demonstrated in a wide variety of other methods in accordance with a student’s individual learning plan (“ILP”).
Change from “random selection” requirement for certain charter schools. I believe all schools should be able to using the same selective techniques permitted by the DPS. The success of the DPS’s selective Renaissance High School, Cass Technical High School, Communication & Media Arts High, and Detroit School of Arts is proof that, for some students, higher standards and challenging schools lead to success.
The random selection criteria should continue to apply to most public schools and the selective criteria limited to specialized enrollment categories
Like the long standing Henry Ford Academy[iv], there may be other opportunities for schools formally affiliated with a §501(c)(3) cultural institution or government instrumentality. These schools should require agreement of continuing support and guidance. Not more than 1/3 of school board members can be affiliated with the cultural institution.
Michigan already has a comparable model – the urban high school academy. These special forms of charter schools must have a stated goal of increasing high school graduation rates and receive financial and educational support from a private applicant entity that has net assets of at least $50,000,000.00.
Michigan should permit and fund, with state and tuition/scholarship funds, highly selective schools for innovative, specialized learning environment for highly motivated pupils who have a genuine interest in the curriculum of the school. These schools should be locally developed and designed for performance at an educational level equal to or exceeding the highest-performing schools anywhere. It should include a competitive admission process based on articulated standards. Special designation must require academic standards that meet high international testing and ranking standards. These schools may recruit from anywhere in the world and charge tuition to non-Michigan residents.
Districts should be allowed to operate learning and instructional support facilities outside of their traditional geographic boundaries for the purpose of supporting students enrolled in online/blended/distance/extended learning programs or schools.
There is a legitimate focus on the challenges of low performance of many minority and low-income schools. But the ultimate economic success of Michigan also depends on the education outcomes of middle and upper-middle class schools as Michigan competes in the global economy. I will authorize the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to create an index ranking Michigan high schools as though they were nations as a device for creating middle and upper-middle class family demand for an education market and tools for managing their children’s educations. According to many parents and by many measures, Michigan’s “good” public school systems aren’t as good as many people think. Because the state is home to some of the worst school systems in the country, the rest of the lot naturally looks pretty good by comparison. There has been a lot of work done on this issue, including the “Global Report Card” last year (http://www.globalreportcard.org/), which ranks every school district in the U.S. based on international benchmarks. The MDE will analyze this data specifically for Michigan school districts and see how we stack up.
The State of Michigan and its public schools receive and spend approximately $1 billion in federal funds each year. Because this is considered “free money,” the Legislature and the public pay little attention to how these funds drive and limit education policy choice for Michigan officials. Gov. Snyder has now proposed to take a slice of federal education funds to start up his replacement for the DPS. The Legislature should revisit the idea of using some of the federal funds for administration to create a transparent bipartisan, bicameral entity in the Legislative Council to develop a deeper understanding of how federal education funds are used in the state.
Families who are homeschooling their children are part of the State’s education system and homeschooled students are entitled to access the free public school system. Some of the most innovative approaches to education are coming from these homeschoolers. But, ever since the ruling in Snyder v. Charlotte Schools, homeschooled students have been unnecessarily linked to nonpublic schools, with the same restrictions. Existing restrictions and interpretations from the MDE should be removed to allow homeschooled students the option to take some essential courses from the public schools.
I urge other members of the Education Committee to advance their proposals for improving student learning and the performance of public schools throughout the State.
Rep. Tim Kelly (R-94th District)
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 Art. IX, § 11. State school aid fund; source; distribution; guarantee to local school district.
There shall be established a state school aid fund which shall be used exclusively for aid to school districts, higher education, and school employees’ retirement systems, as provided by law. *** the state shall guarantee that the total state and local per pupil revenue for school operating purposes for each local school district shall not be less than the 1994-95 total state and local per pupil revenue for school operating purposes for that local school district…..
[ii] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._executive_branch_czars
[iii] 418 U.S. 717 (1974)
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