Michigan Public Education in Shambles

It’s no surprise that money troubles and transparency issues are the result stripping public education of the accountability found in democratically elected school boards. Detroit Public Schools and the Education Achievement Authority both operate under state appointed individuals that shift millions in loans back and forth without disclosure of the transactions.

Democratic Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton paid $2642.05 to file a Freedom of Information Act request for documents that revealed the movement of funds between the two bodies.

The Detroit Free Press reports that cash-strapped DPS have twice loaned the EAA $6 million dollars this school year. EAA Chancellor, John Covington, has been openly begging for money above and beyond the per pupil foundation grants it’s taken from DPS when the EAA was formed out of the 15 lowest performing schools in the district.

Covington is desperate for the Senate to pass legislation to match that passed by the House last month to codify the EAA as an official school district. In his end-of-the-year newsletter he told staff the following:

“…I am fully aware that there is much concern relative to whether there is sufficient support for the Education Achievement Authority and the work we are doing. We were all disappointed that the EAA was not codified as a statewide system of schools during the lame-duck session of the Michigan State Legislature, and the we did not make the final list of awardees for the Race to the Top funding by the United States Department of Education.”

The EAA is troubled by more than funding problems. Lawmakers are concerned about an increase in violence in those schools since they left DPS and are calling for more training of security officers. Sen. Coleman Young II (D) told The Detroit News that “officers have told him they lack basic training in CPR, experience high turnover and get little support from Prudential Protective Service, the company hired to provide security officers at the 15 EAA schools.”

The district produced abominable scores on their MEAPS last Fall, and Sen. Bert Johnson(D) reports that the EAA teachers are ill-trained, student abuse is occuring, and special needs students are being handled improperly:

• Rather than putting experienced teachers in these “under-performing schools,” roughly two-thirds are Teach for America students — who get five weeks of “teacher training” the summer before they are assigned, with no other certification required.

• At Pershing High School, a dozen TFA students walked off the job, and I have received reports of several who have broken down in staff meetings, unable to handle the rigors of teaching. In some cases, athletic department staff are teaching students.

• Reports of student abuse, including a child whose mouth was taped shut for being too talkative.

• Abuse of special needs students, including unilateral changes to Individualized Education Plans without input from parents, therapists and counselors. This is illegal.”

DPS fares little better in meeting special needs requirements.  After all the budget-cutting, school closings, charter conversions, and EAA stripping of funds — the most vulnerable students are being left in dire straights. Special needs students in DPS are becoming a larger and larger portion of the school population. The statewide average is 12 percent, but DPS is struggling to serve 18 percent — that’s 9,000 students – all while under the cruel austerity measures of emergency management. Their class sizes have doubled, yet among the expanded charter schools, only 10 percent serve special needs kids.

Michigan’s kids deserve better than this. Much better.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree