Eight Questions for Rick Snyder About the Future of Detroit’s Schools

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (via time.com)

Tomorrow, Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, plans to unveil a new plan for Detroit’s schools, which he previewed a week ago. The three-part plan is expected to call for significant changes to handle the Detroit Public Schools’ persistent $350 million debt load and, more importantly, revamp the governance and oversight model for the city’s schools.

[Update: Coverage of Snyder’s press conference here and here.]

The first part will call for a bankruptcy-management strategy (previously employed by General Motors) through which Detroit Public Schools would be divided into two entities. One would operate schools (the “new company”); the other would resolve the district’s debt (the “old company”).

The second part will call for the DPS school board to remain with the “old company.” The district is currently run by a state-appointed emergency financial manager, an arrangement that is likely to continue until the district is solvent, so any board’s role would be limited for the foreseeable future.

The third part would establish the Detroit Education Commission, a new body that would oversee Detroit’s portfolio of district and charter schools. Early reports indicate that the commissioners would be appointed by Governor Snyder and Detroit’s Mayor, Mike Duggan. The body would oversee city-wide education services such as a common enrollment system, a universal performance measure, and transportation. The idea was first introduced a month ago in a report by the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren.

We’ve been following the developments in Detroit closely for quite some time and are heartened to see proposals that get into the DNA of the system–changing decision-making authority and governance instead of just tinkering with the operations of the district. But there are still a number of important open questions. Here are eight that we hope Gov. Snyder’s announcement will answer, questions we believe are critical to creating a self-improving system of diverse, high-quality schools:

  1. Who will be ultimately accountable for the success of the city’s schools?
  2. What will the relationship be between the Detroit Education Commission and other oversight entities, such as charter school authorizers, the “new DPS” board, the Education Achievement Authority, and the state board of education?
  3. Will Detroit be converted to a “charter district,” similar to Muskegon Heights and Highland Park? If so, will the “new DPS” continue to authorize charter schools?
  4. Who will get control of facilities in the debt divide? Does the DEC manage them for the city’s portfolio or are they assets owned and controlled by the “old DPS”?
  5. Will Snyder address the fixes needed at the state level, like stronger charter authorizing practices, which have a significant influence on Detroit schools?
  6. When fully implemented, what mechanisms will there be for stakeholders like parents, students, and community members to exercise democratic control and have a local voice?
  7. How will private schools be incorporated into Detroit’s system of schools?
  8. How will the state ensure a smooth transition to a new governance model, and how long will it take?