Detroit Mayor Mulls Expanding School Options

Published May 1, 2007

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s (D) State of the City address in March provided hope that he may soon expand support for several types of schools in addition to government-run schools.

“Education in the city of Detroit cannot continue to be looked at as the Detroit Public Schools only,” Kilpatrick said in his March 13 address. “Our children attend charter schools. Our children attend private schools. Our children attend parochial schools. Our children attend inner-ring suburban schools. There is even an emerging homeschool base growing in our city.”

After a first term scarred by Kilpatrick and Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s (D) joint rejection of a $200 million philanthropic gift targeting charter schools, skeptics did not expect Kilpatrick to consider broad reform efforts in the Motor City.

But Harrison Blackmond, president and chief executive officer of the Detroit chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, said Kilpatrick has always been open to supporting various educational options. He said the mayor sends his own children to charter and private schools.

“He has consistently supported educational options and other reforms as a way to provide quality education for Detroit children,” Blackmond said. “A former Detroit Public School teacher himself, the mayor, while a state legislator, was instrumental in establishing the so-called Detroit reform board of education in 1999.”

Mass Exodus

While it is unclear whether Kilpatrick will attempt to take control of the public schools–as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and others have done–he followed his State of the City address with a visit to the University Preparatory Academy charter school on March 26.

“There are others who want to open up [charter] schools,” Kilpatrick told the Detroit Free Press during his visit. “I’m also talking to some of the private schools to open up satellite places in Detroit.”

Kilpatrick may be responding to the steady departure of students from traditional public schools in Detroit to city and suburban charter, private, and parochial options.

Nearly 51,000 students, or roughly one-third of the city’s schoolchildren, are currently enrolled in charter schools or public schools in neighboring suburban districts, according to a January 15 Detroit News report. Last fall alone, 5,000 students left Detroit’s public schools for other options–a trend Blackmond said Kilpatrick is keenly aware of.

“Middle- and working-class residents who have school-age children and who want them to attend good schools cannot afford to continue to send their children to failing schools, or private and parochial schools,” Blackmond explained. “These families represent a significant tax base for the city, and everyone that leaves takes not only the state foundation grant for the schools, but also income and property taxes for the city.”

Expanded Role

With New York City and Chicago showing promising returns from increased mayoral control of public schools, and the District of Columbia considering joining them, a small ripple effect could be generating across the country.

Martin Chavez, Albuquerque’s first-term mayor, has been actively pursuing the support he would need in the New Mexico legislature for increasing his control of the city’s schools, though so far without success.

In Hartford, Connecticut and Los Angeles, mayors are finding creative ways around resistance to their control.

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez appointed himself to the city’s school board, and Villaraigosa is backing school board candidates who will support his plans.

Kate McGreevy ([email protected]) writes from Washington, DC.

For more information …

“Kilpatrick Puts Detroit Public Schools on Notice,” The Detroit News, March 16, 2007,

“Mayor Pursues More Charter, Private Schools,” The Detroit Free Press, March 27, 2007,