This Week & Next (Apr 24, 2015)

Governor Snyder’s Plan for Detroit – Next Week?!
All eyes are on the Executive Office as details of Governor’s Snyder’s proposal to address education reform in Detroit will be released next week. The Governor is expected to announce a comprehensive set of reforms to address academics, governance and finances in Detroit Public Schools. Key features of the Governor’s plan are expected to be creation of an “old” DPS to collect taxes and pay down debt, along with a “new” school system to educate kids. Before the plan has even been announced, however, DPS Board Member Lamar Lemmons has vowed to fight the Governor. GLEP supports any proposal that provides additional quality options for students, empowers parents to make choices, and increases the return on taxpayer investments in education; and we will oppose any proposal that puts limits on school choice, reduces accountability or wastes taxpayer dollars.
Authorizer Accountability Town Hall Meetings in Lansing and Detroit Next Week
GLEP is pleased to participate in a series of town hall meetings to review the issue of charter school authorizer accountability in the state, hosted by StudentsFirst-Michigan. [NOTE: Please check out the GLEP/MAPSA/MCCSA response to the StudentsFirst guest editorial in this week’s Detroit News]. The first two events were held this week in Flint and Grand Rapids, and both meetings were spirited discussions amongst passionate professionals who care about the future of education in the state. Each meeting had ample opportunity for audience interaction given the relatively low turnout. We believe expanded choice, A-F letter grading; higher standards (3rd grade reading); getting serious with school improvement efforts and authorizer accreditation will help improve academic performance in the state. Next week’s town hall meetings, which are open to the public, will be held as follows:

  • Tue, April 28   Lansing            LCC Board Room                  RSVP here
  • Thu, April 30   Detroit             Starr Detroit Academy          RSVP here

Who’s on the hook for $2.2 billion in DPS debt?
On Wednesday the well-respected Citizens Research Council published a report that outlines $2.2 billion in short and long-term debt that has been accumulated by Detroit Public Schools. A quick breakdown of this debt is as follows:
– $1.6 billion in bonded/capital debt (paid with $172 million per year in property taxes);
– $299 million in short term debt converted to long term notes (paid by $53 million per year until 2021);
– $108 million in this year’s short term loan from the state (the district is currently looking to convert this to long-term debt as well); and
– $172 million in operating deficit for the current fiscal year.

The report highlights the fact that DPS has spent more than it receives in 8 of the last 9 years — which happens to be against the law (for those concerned with such things). The district, on more than one occasion, has converted short term debt to long-term notes, robbing tomorrow’s students to cover the costs of educating yesterday’s students. This reminds us of the Popeye and Wimpy method of financing – “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”  Well, Tuesday is coming for DPS!!

The Coalition to Save DPS has asked the state to take on $124 million per year in payments for the district (the $53 million per year to satisfy past short-term borrowing and $71 million per year for MPSERS, the school employee retirement system.) Among other bills the district has chosen not to pay, it’s worth noting that DPS hasn’t paid their MPSERS bill all year.

The CRC report also highlights that in each of the four cases where the state has taken on school district debt, the former traditional school district has stopped educating students (good precedent). Legislative reaction to sending hundreds of millions of dollars to DPS has been cool.

“Our Children, Our Choice” campaign continues
A new public information campaign, called “Our Children, Our Choice” was launched last week by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. This series of a dozen video vignettes features parents from Detroit who support school choice. Check it out!!

MDE says M-STEP testing going well; MEA backs away
According to MDE, the initial week of implementing M-STEP, the state’s new student assessment for grades K-8, has gone very well. At the same time, the MEA president announced this week they don’t believe results of the new state assessment should be used to evaluate teacher performance, which is required by state law. So much for accountability, right?!

“Steve Cook” bills introduced to end pension scam
Kudos to Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) for introducing SB 279, which would close a technical loophole that allows unions officers to collect publicly funded pensions. The bill became necessary when it was revealed that Steve Cook, MEA President, has been provided a sweetheart deal between the Lansing Public Schools and the MEA to collect a taxpayer-funded pension for his $205,000 salary as president of a private-sector union. MPSERS, the school retirement system, is currently underfunded by $26 billion, and these schemes only make the situation worse. Knollenberg also introduced SB 280, which would prohibit taxpayer funds being used to pay union officials from doing union work on school time – something currently being done in 25 of 28 Oakland County school districts as well as countless districts across the state. GLEP strongly supports SB 279 and 280.

Georgia adopts A-F system for school accountability
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law a bill to create an A-F school grading system for Georgia schools (SB 133).  A-F school grading systems enable parents, teachers, administrators and policymakers to clearly identify struggling schools, take action to improve those schools and recognize improvements. Additionally, the bill creates a new Opportunity School District (OSD), which will provide more intensive support and interventions to turn around some of the state’s lowest performing schools. GLEP is pushing this same reform in Michigan.

Tennessee Becomes 22nd School Choice State
The Tennessee legislature on Wednesday passed the Individualized Education Act, a bill to create an Education Savings Account (ESA) for special needs students. ESA’s are a relatively new form of school choice that empower parents with the ability to customize the education of their child, using state funds to pay for tutoring, therapy and alternative education. Governor Bill Haslam is expected to sign the bill into law, making Tennessee the 4th state to have an ESA program, joining Florida, Arizona and Mississippi.  GLEP is supporting this reform in Michigan.


Next Week

Monday, April 27

  • GLEP to present at Wayne GOP Meeting – Dearborn

Tuesday, April 28

  • Senate Education Committee
  • Introductory Meetings with Key Legislators
  • Charter Authorizer Town Hall Meeting – Lansing

Wednesday, April 29

  • Senator Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) Fundraising Reception – Lansing
  • Introductory Meetings with Key Legislators

Thursday, April 30

  • House Education Committee
  • Charter Authorizer Town Hall Meeting – Detroit

Friday, May 1

  • Publish “This Week & Next” e-newsletter

Do you support what GLEP is doing to improve education in Michigan? Please consider making a donation to help us continue our efforts, and all contributions are very much appreciated!!


Gary G. Naeyaert
Executive Director