Gongwer News Service | April 7, 2015 – A plan by the Great Lakes Education Project to essentially shut down Detroit Public Schools and allow students of the district to choose from schools around the region would include private schools but would not necessarily require constitutional changes as critics of the plan argued.
GLEP, in answer to the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren proposal (See Gongwer Michigan Report, March 30, 2015), had proposed making Detroit an Education Innovation Zone, providing schools state assistance if they enroll at least 25 percent students from the city.
Attorney Richard McLellan, who has been a leading advocate of education reform, in a review of the plan, said if the proposal was to include private schools, it would require repeal of the current constitutional ban on using public funds for private K-12 schools (the so-called parochiaid amendment).
The provision would also have to be changed to allow private schools to be designated as school districts, as the plan proposed.
Gary Naeyaert, GLEP executive director, said the plan was intended to encompass private schools, but would not necessarily require constitutional change.
“Our goal is to provide a common sense response to the convoluted, dead-on-arrival coalition report,” Mr. Naeyaert said. “It creates a unique answer to a unique problem.”
But he said the group was only seeking legislative changes and any constitutional changes would be left to the discretion of the Legislature to seek.
“There’s a lot of room within the power of the Legislature to award money to families and not to schools,” he said. “They have to fund public education. They don’t have to fund government-sponsored education.”
He said public funds already go to some private schools through shared services and other programs, and private schools that wanted to participate in the program would have to not only enroll the required percentage of Detroit students but meet the testing and quality requirements.
Mr. McLellan had questioned who would set the quality standards.
The “sponsors” of the schools would set those standards, Mr. Naeyaert said. A sponsor would be similar to a charter authorizer, though, in addition to Wayne County Community College and Wayne Regional Education Service Agency that are already eligible to charter schools, the mayor could be a sponsor.
Current DPS buildings would be “reallocated” to new sponsors that would reconstitute the buildings, including potentially hiring new staff, he said.
Mr. Naeyaert said the goal of the plan would be to eliminate Detroit Public Schools, and potentially its current tax collections.
“We just want to retire DPS at the same time we retire their debt,” he said.
Given that the state is already paying 80 percent of the costs for the districts, he said it would not be a stretch, once the district’s current debt it paid, to eliminate its tax collections.
Leaving the district the way it is will reach essentially the same conclusion, he said. “At some point they will be officially bankrupt … and the state will be left picking up the pieces,” he said.