MI Education Budget Could Prompt Some School Closures

Jul 3, 2018

With a new budget in hand, Michigan school districts now have the numbers they need to start planning for the fall.  Last week, Governor Rick Snyder signed a nearly $17 billion K-12 spending plan.  The Lansing and Detroit public schools are among 10 so-called “partnership districts” which are legally obligated to ensure all of their students are reading at grade level. 

 


ALICE YIN:

They clearly outlined for the first time accountability measures that would happen if they don’t meet their improvements by the designated 18 to 36 month benchmarks.  If these schools don’t shape up by then, they could face at least 25 percent of their staff being replaced, and if they don’t shape up by three years, they could either be reconstituted, which is being overtaken by the state again, or they could be shut down.

KEVIN LAVERY:

So, there’s specific language in this budget that addresses that accountability?

YIN:

Yes.

LAVERY:

Do these districts have cause for alarm, or this is something that’s been brewing for a long time and they’ve seen this coming?

YIN:

The thing about these partnership districts is they were kind of introduced by the (state) superintendent last spring, just to save these districts from being closed, because Governor Snyder at the time was considering closing 38 of these schools, many of which were in the Detroit area.  The late state superintendent, Brian Whiston, kind of bailed these schools out by adding this agreement as sort of an interim solution to stave off their closures for a bit.  But it was never officially written into the education statute. 

What’s interesting is that the previous governor, Democrat Jennifer Granholm, enacted a law that actually puts in school accountability by saying that the bottom five percent of schools, if they don’t improve in three years, are subject to closures.  So, that was the law that Michigan was operating under for its public and charter schools.  So, this is kind of a last resort measure that never ended up being officially enacted into law. 

Governor Snyder tried afterwards to write this into the School Accountability Law, but he kind of got pushback from both sides of the legislature.  Republicans thought that was kind of a half measure, not good enough, and they wanted full-on accountability.  Democrats were not okay with the accountability measures and the threat of how these schools could still end up getting closed.  So fast forward a year and we end up here.  In the last weeks of the budget negotiation process, Republicans added this in along with all the other changes in the education budget.  It came to this, and it got passed with a lot of objection from the Democrats.

LAVERY:

Shoe-horned in at the last minute, just about?

YIN:

Yes.

LAVERY:

The legislature is touting the per pupil funding increase as the biggest in about 15 years.  Depending on the size of the district, it’s anywhere from $120 to $240 more per student.  Groups like the Michigan Education Association say even this spending hike does not make up for the cuts that were imposed in 2012.  Only now are districts becoming financially solvent again with this budget.  Have you talked with any lawmakers about this information?

YIN:

Definitely the Democratic lawmakers have mentioned that in his first budget, Governor Snyder cut spending by $470 per student.  The MEA and Democrats have mentioned other independent studies that have found that the best districts that have improved in the past decade or so had the highest per pupil spending.  It seems Republicans largely are not that apt to have huge increases because they’re still operating on a pro-school choice, accountability-driven motto.

LAVERY:

(So), fair to say that with this new budget, many parents across the state will be very concerned about staving off closure?

YIN:

Yes, definitely.  I think this is pretty consequential to the lowest performing schools in Michigan.  A lot of challenges are out of their control in terms of tackling the day to day life of these schools and the lack of resources.  Now, with this new provision where they could be laid off if these schools don’t end up shaping up, a lot of teachers are saying sometimes the hardest working teachers do a good job, show up every day for disadvantaged students but they don’t necessarily score the best and now they’re liable to be laid off.  So, it’s definitely another bleak time for Michigan teachers.