Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Over the last 48 hours, we have seen several developments in Michigan education policy. Here are the grim highlights:
AN END IN SIGHT FOR THE EAA?
To the surprise of many, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) has told The Detroit News that the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) will likely be eliminated in the near future. But don’t start celebrating yet! Despite a fair amount of confusion in the media, you should know that the EAA and the state’s reform district are not one and the same—they are two separate entities. Even if the EAA is disbanded, therefore, the state’s reform district (now under the School Reform Office) will remain in place and will continue to possess most of the powers now exercised by the EAA. In other words, the elimination of the EAA will not automatically return control over schools to the Detroit Public Schools Board of Education; the state will very much remain involved in their management.
Last spring, as you might recall, Governor Rick Snyder transferred the School Reform Office from the Department of Education to the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (DTMB), which is directly under his personal control. As I wrote at the time, Snyder likely violated the Michigan Constitution by removing core school-reform powers from the State Board of Education and giving them to the DTMB. Nevertheless, Governor Snyder has announced that the School Reform Office will take over management of at least some of the buildings in the “struggling” East Detroit School District (Eastpointe), providing proof that his School Reform Office is still very much alive.
DEVELOPMENTS IN DPS EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT
On Tuesday, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Darnell Earley (who, by the way, appears to be on the run from the U.S. Marshal’s Service) suddenly announced that he would resign at the end of February. In a ridiculous letter to Governor Rick Snyder, Earley suggested that he had resolved the financial problems plaguing DPS and that his services were therefore no longer needed. The very next day, two individuals emerged as possible replacements for Earley. Bridge magazine has revealed that Snyder’s office is courting Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation, and Charlie Beckham, a convicted felon who manages the City of Detroit’s neighborhoods department, for the DPS emergency manager position. Neither Allen nor Beckham has any experience or training as a professional educator.
Then on Wednesday, Senator Meekhof suggested that state emergency management for the Detroit Public Schools might end altogether. Although he provided few details, it appears Meekhof believes that currently pending legislation might render emergency management unnecessary for DPS. Under Senate Bill 710, which would split the Detroit Public Schools into an “old DPS” and a “new DPS,” any candidate for the position of DPS superintendent would be subject to approval by the state financial review commission. In other words, Senate Bill 710 would put in place a state-selected superintendent for DPS who would assume many of the powers of the current emergency manager. Only time will tell whether the Michigan Legislature will incorporate the end of de jure emergency management into its final plan for DPS (it is my theory that the state-selected superintendent under Senate Bill 710 would nonetheless continue to operate as a de facto emergency manager).
(By the way, if you still have questions about how we ever got to this point, here’s a primer on the history of emergency management in the Detroit Public Schools.)
TEACHER STRIKE LEGISLATION MOVES FORWARD
Tuesday morning, the Senate education committee favorably reported Senate Bills 713, 714, and 715 on party-line votes. The legislation is designed to impose new, severe penalties on Detroit teachers who participated in so-called “sickouts” during recent weeks. Through their actions, the participating teachers brought national attention to the deplorable conditions in their buildings and classrooms.
Senate Bill 713 (Substitute S-2) would require the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) to hold expedited hearings on public school employee strikes. It would also confer upon MERC and the circuit court broad powers to enter orders, enjoin strikes, impose fines, and punish striking teachers. Finally, it would make it illegal for unions or other labor organizations to encourage public employee strikes. Senate Bill 714 (Substitute S-1) would direct the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to hold hearings pertaining to striking teachers, and would require the State Superintendent to suspend or revoke the teaching certificate of any public school teacher who is found to have participated in a strike. Senate Bill 715 would punish any school district that fails to timely deduct fines from a teacher’s paycheck. The three-bill package now moves to the Senate’s committee of the whole.