Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Late last night, anxious to finish their business and leave town for summer vacation, Republican members of the Michigan Senate narrowly agreed to pass the Michigan House’s plan for the breakup and reorganization of the Detroit Public Schools (“DPS”). The Senate made two amendments to the House bills, including (1) new language in HB 5383 that would provide money from the state’s general fund if the annual $72 million appropriations from the tobacco settlement are not enough to cover the new district’s foundation allowance during the debt-repayment period, and (2) the removal of some (but not all) language from HB 5384 that would have exempted the authorizer of a low-performing charter school from modifying or revoking the school’s contract if it was undergoing “reconstitution.” Shortly after midnight, the House concurred in both Senate amendments. The legislation will now be presented to Governor Rick Snyder for his likely approval.
As finally passed, the legislation would redirect roughly $72 million generated annually by DPS’s 18-mill non-homestead property tax from its current use (paying for the local portion of the foundation allowance) to the qualifying district to pay off operating debt. Of course, this would leave a void of $72 million per year in the community district’s per-pupil funding. To fill this void, the legislation would appropriate $72 million a year from the state’s tobacco settlement award.
The annual appropriations from the state’s tobacco settlement award would be capped at $617 million, but under the amendment discussed above, any amounts necessary to fully fund the community district’s per-pupil allowance above and beyond this $617 million amount would be provided from the state’s general fund. It appears that this amendment cures the problem that I have been complaining about for weeks—namely, that because the $72 million a year from the tobacco settlement was capped at $617 million, it would run out before the qualifying district could pay off the debt in full. Now that this amendment is in place, the bills would provide full funding of the community district’s foundation allowance for as long as it takes to pay off the debt and restore the 18-mill taxing authority for school operations. But that doesn’t make the legislation any less objectionable.
The final version of SB 822 would authorize a $150 million loan to the qualifying district for transitional operating costs. The $150 million in loan debt would become an obligation of the qualifying district, and would be added to the existing $467 million operating debt ($467 million + $150 million = $617 million). Out of this $150 million loan, the district would only be able to spend $25 million on facilities maintenance.
The legislation purports to restore local control, but would not return any power to the democratically elected Detroit Board of Education. In fact, the plan would dissolve the current board of education upon the swearing-in of a new board, to be elected in November 2016. The new board would consist of seven members elected on a districtwide basis. It would operate the qualifying district and community district concurrently until the operating debt is paid off in full and the qualifying district is dissolved.
The new board would be subject to oversight by a state financial review commission, with a majority of members appointed by the governor. The financial review commission would have the power to approve and modify budgets, review contracts and collective bargaining agreements, approve travel reimbursements for school officials, and hire a chief financial officer for the community district. The community district would not be able to terminate the employment of the chief financial officer or superintendent without the financial review commission’s approval.
Although the legislation would technically end emergency management of the Detroit schools and terminate the Education Achievement Authority (“EAA”), it would confer several new powers on the state school reform/redesign officer, an appointee of the governor who holds many of the same powers as the EAA and emergency manager combined. Among other things, the legislation would require the state school reform/redesign officer to implement an “A” through “F” letter-grading system for all public schools—both traditional public schools and charter schools—in Detroit. In conjunction with powers that already exist under Section 1280c of the Revised School Code, the state school reform/redesign officer would have the authority to close traditional public schools or charter schools that are identified as “among the lowest achieving 5% of all public schools in this state for the immediately preceding 3 school years” (this is the part of HB 5384 from which the Senate removed the language pertaining to “reconstitution” of charters). The state school reform/redesign officer would also have the power to close any traditional public school that repeatedly earns a grade of “F” under the aforementioned letter-grading system. Similarly, the state school reform/redesign officer would have the power to direct an authorizer to close a charter school that repeatedly earns an “F,” but only if the charter school is not undergoing “reconstitution” (note that the Senate did not remove the language pertaining to “reconstitution” in this part of the bill).
The legislation, as passed, would not create an education commission to oversee the siting and opening of new schools in Detroit. As I have written previously, I did not support the Senate’s idea of an education commission appointed by the mayor of Detroit for a variety of reasons. Among others, I believe that elected school boards, and not unaccountable commissions, should have the exclusive power to open and close traditional public schools in their respective districts. But this is not to say that we don’t need a mechanism to manage the siting of charter schools in Michigan. I would unquestionably support the creation of an accountable statewide entity with the power to oversee the opening and closing of charter schools (perhaps this power could be exercised by the State Board of Education).
HB 5384 would expressly permit a public school district to outsource the education of its pupils to any “public entity.” While the Revised School Code presently allows school districts to contract with outside entities for a number of services, this bill would specifically set down for the first time in Michigan law that a public school district need not directly operate its own schools. In other words, even though the authority to outsource the running of schools might be implicit under present law, this bill would make it explicit. Additionally, the bill would expand the power of school boards to authorize their own charter schools by removing language that requires authorizing boards to “operate grades K to 12.” In effect, this amendment would permit a school board to authorize its own charter or charters even if it no longer operates its own K-12 schools.
Of course, I’ve saved the worst for last. HB 5384, as passed, sets forth several anti-teacher measures. It would permit the new board to hire noncertified/nonendorsed individuals with no degree or training to “teach” in the community district. Would an elected board actually do this? Let’s hope not. But why was this provision even included in the bill?
By the way, HB 5384 specifies that a noncertified/nonendorsed individual could be hired whenever “the appropriate official of the community district” determines that “it would be appropriate and in the best interests of the pupils.” We don’t know what this means because the bill doesn’t elaborate or define the terms. However, the bill does provide that if a noncertified/nonendorsed individual is hired to “teach,” and stays with the community district for three years, the Michigan Department of Education must waive the student-teaching requirements for purposes of granting him or her a provisional teaching certificate.
HB 5384 would also institute a system of merit pay for newly hired teachers. It provides that “the community district shall implement and maintain a method of compensation that includes job performance and job accomplishments as the primary factor in determining compensation,” and states that “a teacher’s . . . job performance shall be evaluated based on the teacher’s annual evaluation.” Unlike an earlier version of the bill that was not adopted, the final version does not explicitly tie teacher compensation to pupil test scores. However, because existing law (MCL 380.1249) requires that annual teacher evaluations take into account pupil scores and assessment data, the bill will have the effect of indirectly linking teacher pay to test scores, at least in part. The bill would also prohibit the community district from taking into account longevity and years of service in the determination of compensation for newly hired teachers.
The real kicker is that these measures would only apply to newly hired teachers, and only in Detroit—not in any of Michigan’s other 540 public school districts. In my opinion, Detroit’s children are just as deserving of qualified, competent, fairly compensated teachers as children in the rest of the state. It strikes me that these provisions were included as a way to discourage good teachers from wanting to work in Detroit, to dilute the pool of qualified teachers, to put in place a two-tier system of compensation for senior and junior teachers, and to eventually break the teachers’ union.
As passed, HB 5387 would implement harsher penalties, including fines, for striking teachers. Under the language of the bill, the employment relations commission (appointed by the governor) would have the power to determine whether a public school employee has engaged in an illegal strike and to set a fine; the standard of review would be revised, making it difficult for the courts to overturn a finding of the commission.
I was really hoping that cooler heads would prevail and that a true bipartisan, interchamber compromise might emerge—a compromise that would fully fund the district, treat teachers with respect, give educators the tools they need, and ensure the lasting strength of the Detroit Public Schools for the future of Detroit’s children. I was really hoping that the GOP senators wouldn’t simply capitulate to the spoiled, petulant children in the other chamber. ’Twas not to be.
Sooner or later, someone is going to have to stand up to the infants in the House and tell them that they can’t always have their way. It’s just too bad that our weak and indifferent governor is incapable of fulfilling this role. If Rick Snyder had really supported the Senate plan as much as he claimed, he would have done something about it before yesterday. But we all know his game; it was just an act. He’s happy to have these bills passed, enrolled, and ready for his signature, irrespective of their final content. And we can be pretty sure he’ll sign them; he admitted as much on Mackinac Island. What matters to Snyder is that he can now take credit for getting something done. Never mind that it’s the House plan—a plan that he had nothing to do with; a plan that he first opposed, and then didn’t exactly oppose, and then supported, merely because it became politically expedient. What a leader! And look, his spin machine is already hard at work; my money says he’ll sign the bills within a day or two: