Michigan Gov. Snyder Proposes Bailout for Detroit Government Schools

Published March 1, 2016

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is urging the state’s legislature to approve a proposal that would restructure Detroit Public Schools (DPS), splitting the system into two districts.

In his January 2016 State of the State address, Snyder proposed bailing out the floundering government school district by diverting $720 million in other government funds, such as revenues intended for economic development efforts, to pay off the school’s debts. The proposal would create a new government commission to manage the newly created districts until new board members are elected by voters in November 2016.

Kyle Olson, founder and chief operating officer of the Education Action Group Foundation, says debt is a symptom, not the cause, of the district’s problems. He says Detroit’s government schools are suffering from mismanagement at all levels.

“The factors are many: self-serving school board members, incompetent administrators, and a teachers union more interested in power and scoring political points than delivering high-quality education,” Olson said. “Parents abdicating their authority and handing it over to this band of misfits hasn’t helped.”

Government System Crash

Olson says more government involvement is not the solution to Detroit’s school problems.  

“Legislators need to stop trying to ‘fix’ DPS,” Olson said.  “Let market forces—that is to say, parents—do it. Governors and legislators have been trying for years, decades in fact, to fix DPS, with little effect. How many more students need to be lost before they realize solutions don’t come from government, but rather parents?”

Ben DeGrow, education policy director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says Snyder’s plan may show short-term results, but it’s not a long-term solution.

“To the extent the proposals preserve and expand choice to families, they will be a benefit,” DeGrow said. “But anything that props up centralized control and ongoing mismanagement will just kick the can down the road and make future reform efforts even more painful and difficult. There’s more the state needs to look at doing that will put more power and accountability in the hands of parents.”

Need for New Options

DeGrow says Detroit government school administrators should look to other districts for ideas.

“There are no easy solutions or quick fixes for education in Detroit, but the well-documented dramatic turnaround in New Orleans offers the closest parallel.” DeGrow said. “Top-down programs may have some potential to help the situation, but one can hardly expect them to lead to real transformation. The keys are to attract more charter operators with successful track records, give them autonomy while ensuring rigorous accountability, empower parents with the means and needed information to access these options, and to rebuild a culture of high expectations from the ground up, with examples of success breeding more success.”

Leo Pusateri ([email protected]) writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.