Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Kevin Cotter (R-Mount Pleasant) spoke with Cynthia Canty of Michigan Radio this afternoon. Among other things, Cotter addressed the authority of the State School Reform/Redesign Office ("SRRO") to close low-performing schools around the state. You can listen to the interview here.
Cotter discussed 2016 PA 192, the Detroit schools reorganization legislation that lawmakers passed in June. He explained why he disagrees with Governor Rick Snyder's interpretation of § 391(1) -- an interpretation that would permit the new Detroit Public Schools Community District ("DPSCD") to operate district schools for three additional years before they could be closed under the statute.
Cotter stated, "[T]he bills that we passed do apply statewide." Sort of. Section 391(1) requires the closure of schools operated by DPSCD that are among the lowest-achieving 5% of public schools in the state for the immediately preceding three school years. Section 507(5) requires the closure of charter school sites anywhere in the state that have been operating for at least four years and are among the lowest-achieving 5% of public schools in the state for the immediately preceding three years. Thus, apart from charter schools under § 507(5), the legislation simply does not address the closure of pubic schools outside Detroit.
So consider what Cotter said next: "The Governor's interpretation of the language would actually create a double standard, and it would say that public schools outside of Detroit will close at the end of the calendar year, whereas the Detroit schools would get an additional three free years of . . . failure." Well, no, not exactly. As I've explained, the language of the statute does not even mention the closure of traditional public schools outside Detroit, so unless Cotter was using the term "public schools" solely to describe charter schools, his comments were just plain wrong.
In sum, irrespective of whether Snyder's interpretation of § 391(1) is correct or incorrect (I happen to believe it is incorrect), it necessarily has nothing to do with the closure of traditional public schools outside Detroit. Indeed, any authority to close traditional public schools outside Detroit must come from MCL 380.1280c, which was enacted in 2009. And as I have written previously, it is unclear if the "school closure" model referenced in MCL 380.1280c even remains viable.
Next, Cotter was asked why the statute focuses on the lowest-achieving 5% of public schools. Canty inquired, "What is so special about that 5%, the bottom 5%. Why that figure?" Cotter stated that 5% is an "arbitrary" figure. He continued, "We could have gone potentially higher. But 5%, I think, is a good start."
Cotter completely failed to mention that the 5% figure was taken directly from MCL 380.1280c, which was enacted for the express purpose of creating the SRRO to identify the lowest-achieving 5% of public schools in the state under the federal Race to the Top ("RTTT") grant program. In particular, MCL 380.1280c incorporated the 5% figure set forth in the U.S. Department of Education guidelines promulgated under the RTTT provisions of §§ 14005 and 14006 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In other words, the 5% figure isn't "arbitrary" at all. Furthermore, given that the SRRO's power is limited to identifying and compiling a list of "the lowest achieving 5% of all public schools in this state, as defined for the purposes of the [RTTT] federal incentive grant program," and that both § 391(1) and § 507(5) specifically incorporate the requirements of MCL 380.1280c by reference, Cotter's statement that "we could have gone potentially higher" really isn't accurate.