Ban Closing a Detroit School, No Matter How Bad?

Every Senate Dem voted in favor

It slipped under most observers' radar, but last month Democrats in the Michigan Senate tried to prohibit the closure of academically failed schools that are part of the Detroit school district. The gambit came in the form of an amendment to a Republican proposal to give the district a $717 million state bailout, which passed the Senate on March 22.

During debate on the bailout, two amendments were offered by Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood, a Democrat from Taylor. Both amendments proposed language that would forbid closing failed Detroit schools for a number of years.

One amendment would have put a three-year ban on any state action to shut down a failed DPS school. The other amendment would have limited shutdown decisions to a proposed commission appointed by the Detroit mayor, the main job of which would be to ration school choice options in the city.

Stay Engaged

Receive our weekly emails!

DPS has consistently opposed shutting down academically failed schools, although it has closed many schools due to a large decline in enrollment over the past decade. Under state law, a school that is under the rule of the emergency manager can't be put under the review of the state reform office, so it would be up to the emergency manager to shutter DPS schools. DPS didn't respond to an email asking if it has ever considered shutting down schools that have consistently failed academically.

Hopgood’s amendments were supported by every Senate Democrat and opposed by every Senate Republican except Sen. Tory Rocca from Sterling Heights.

Hopgood and Paul Kanan, the press secretary for the Michigan Democratic Party, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The Detroit district currently has 32 individual schools on what the Michigan Department of Education calls its Priority List. These are schools that finished in the bottom 5 percent of the state's “Top-to-Bottom” ranking of public schools. Schools on the list are required to create plans describing how they propose to improve their academic performance and face escalating consequences for failing to successfully execute them. One of the stated consequences is closure, but the state has never closed a school based on poor academics.

John Rakolta chairs a group called the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren, which has offered its own plan for how to fix DPS. Rakolta said there hasn’t been the political will to close failing DPS schools.

“We have failed to close the bad schools both on the public school side and on the charter school side,” Rakolta said at the Michigan Chronicle’s first Pancakes and Politics forum earlier last month. “We do not have the political will to close schools. That’s what the competition is all about. That’s why charter schools are good. You need the competition. But unlike real competition, there are no consequences. And we just keep on going and going and going with failure. We have to step up and recognize failure and eliminate it. And we haven’t done that.”

Rakolta confirmed on March 30 that he stood by those comments.

Gary Naeyaert, the executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, has been a critic of the state’s history of allowing academically failed schools to stay open. Naeyaert said he wasn’t surprised to see Senate Democrats vote to keep Detroit’s failing conventional schools open.

“That’s the goal of the Democratic Party. They don’t ever want to close schools,” Naeyaert said. “There is no accountability for traditional public schools. There is no interest among Democrats to actually intervene with a poor performing school if there is any chance it will change how that school operates.”


Related Articles:

House May Push Back Against Snyder's Detroit School Plan

Here's What the NY Times Got Wrong On Detroit Public Schools

Michigan Democrats Vote to Give Detroit Schools Money for Students Who Don't Go There

Detroit School District Still Needs Teachers

Detroit Bailout's Charter School Restrictions Not About What's Best for Kids