Now that state lawmakers have cobbled together a roads package, the spotlight can turn to fresh priorities.
For example, fixing Detroit’s collapsing school system.
The governor estimates it will take more than $700 million to rehabilitate Detroit’s public schools and warns that if the state doesn’t tackle the mammoth school debt, things will only get worse.
Bridge Magazine writer Chastity Pratt Dawsey tells us that the governor’s plan is essentially to split the Detroit Public Schools into two distinct entities.
“The old Detroit Public Schools will exist solely to pay off the debt, and at this point they’re saying it’s about $515 million,” Dawsey says. They plan to use the millage that goes to those schools now to pay that debt off over the next 10 years.
The new school district will continue to operate and educate kids, and the $70 million difference left by diverting the money from the millage will be taken from the general school fund, according to Dawsey.
Beyond that, she tells us the governor’s plan would also draw charter schools and the Educational Achievement Authority into the same pile so that all schools in Detroit would operate under a central governance system.
The Detroit Free Press’ Nancy Kaffer finds this plan interesting because it’s causing concern for both those in favor of traditional public school systems and those who prefer charter schools.
She explains that the public school folk are wary of the plan because they fear it's the first step toward all-charter districts, and those staunch charter advocates are simply opposed to centralized school authority and governance.
“It’s a very interesting situation when you have people who are completely ideologically opposed both saying that this plan is opening the door to their sort of nightmare scenario,” she says.
Dawsey writes in her piece for Bridge that Governor Snyder has said it will take more than $700 million to save Detroit schools, and the plan was for that money to come out of the general school fund.
Kaffer points out however that Snyder has since amended his original statement, and that he’s now open to considering taking money from elsewhere in the state’s budget to help schools in Detroit.
“We’re still in a situation where state government isn’t exactly flush,” she says, pointing to the recently-passed roads deal that would transfer $600 million from the general fund over the next several years.
“We’re trying to pay a lot of bills out of the same pocket,” Kaffer says. “It’s absolutely essential that the state reevaluate the way it funds local governments and school districts. Some significant things have changed since the last time we tweaked this formula, and we think it’s time we have another look.”
Nancy Kaffer and Chastity Pratt Dawsey tell us more about the governor’s plan for Detroit Public Schools in our conversation above.