by Donna Givens
It seems that everybody loves Detroit’s children. We know they care because they’ve spent most of the past 16 years imposing anti-Democratic and financially reckless policies on Detroit’s public schools. They’re concerned about resources re-directed from the classrooms and into the pockets of greedy and corrupt local leaders; they are deeply disturbed by poor academic results. Detroit school teachers must be held accountable. Detroit parents, including those too poor to access other academic options, have a civil right to school choice. And the poorest of poor parents who survive off of meager public welfare benefits must be punished through the loss of subsistence income if their children fail to attend school on a regular basis.
Lansing loves Detroit children even while placing lifetime limits on welfare benefits, decreasing access to food stamps, cutting revenue sharing, and turning a blind fiscal eye to the undisputed fact that Detroit leads the nation in the number of children living in concentrated poverty. They ignore the evident drive-by truth that the majority of Detroit school children live in sub-standard housing with a greatly heightened risk of lead poisoning and other damaging toxins that impair learning and social development. And these erstwhile child advocates are unmoved by the fact that record numbers of Detroit children are homeless. This year, some politicians are proposing to cut the earned income tax credit that was slashed by Governor Snyder in his first term in office, to finance a reduction in the Michigan Business tax and needed road improvements. They are also seeking to eliminate a prevailing wage law that protects the wages of low income earners and to ban local minimum wage laws that exceed the state average.
So the latest lovefest should come as no surprise. On April 30, Governor Snyder announced a plan to reform the failed reforms by quadrupling down and imposing more of the same. Instead of one state controlled school district the governor proposes to fragment authority and oversight to four independent bodies – an old school district, whose sole function is to collect taxes and pay down debt; a new school district to operate all of the schools; a Financial Oversight Commission to oversee budgets and spending in both school districts; and a Detroit Schools Commission to oversee quality, transportation, enrollment, and the openings and closings of all schools – public and charter in the city of Detroit. And every single board or commission would be controlled by the Governor, while three would grant minority power to Detroit Mayor Duggan.
If history is a passable teacher, we can probably form reasonable hypotheses about what happens next. First, the boards and commissions will be peopled by persons with great financial and little educational acumen, no cultural competency, and limited connection to beloved Detroit Public School Students. Second, no-bid contracts will readily convert school dollars from public to private hands. Third, neither academics nor financials will be improved, enrollment will continue to decline and those very people who were greatly concerned about the greed and profligacy of local leaders will revere those qualities in multi-national corporations, as the inevitable cost of capitalism. Those who were alarmed at the academic under-performance of Detroit Public School students will channel the time-worn explanations of vanquished public school regimes. They will blame parents and children, and question the accuracy and value of standardized tests.
But with Detroit Public Schools, failure is no deterrent. Lansing will always love our kids just well enough to commodify their oppression, lure desperate parents into false choices, and maintain an apartheid system of state schools that is more segregated than any time since 1954. Our children will not be loved enough to ensure safe housing, safe routes to schools, adequate transportation, quality health care, proper nutrition, highly qualified teachers, best practice instruction, and true partnerships between parents and a locally led school community. With love like that, who needs enemies?