Lawmakers Must Preserve Choice in DPS Bailout

Op-eds in The Detroit News and Midland Daily News

As lawmakers in Lansing consider the best way to deal with the insolvent Detroit Public Schools, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s Director of Education Policy Ben DeGrow has urged them to preserve and expand school choice.

In an op-ed published in The Detroit News, DeGrow explains why limiting charter schools in the city — as the Senate’s plan would effectively do — is the wrong answer for students and parents.

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Legislatures across the country have been expanding the freedom of more parents to choose the school they think is best for their children. A retrenchment on this bipartisan effort would be a blow to the larger school choice movement that has swept across this country.

DeGrow explains that establishing a Detroit Education Commission, which would have the authority to put a moratorium on new charters and close existing ones, would protect institutions at the expense of children.

Providing school options for low-income parents has become a political issue, because parents often choose nonunionized charter or private schools. So unions are pushing back, urging politicians to ban these choices for low-income families. Unions and their anti-choice allies are essentially trying to ensure that only the rich should be able to choose schools for their children.

In a separate op-ed published in the Midland Daily News, DeGrow writes about the need for a transparent statewide academic reporting system that considers not only students’ success, but their socioeconomic background. In Detroit and throughout the state, it’s important to consider the number of low-income students a school serves when ranking them, DeGrow said.

The ongoing challenge is to promote high standards without discouraging schools from taking on students who need serious remedial help after languishing elsewhere in the system. Following Florida’s lead, other states have developed ways to measure the year-to-year learning progress of individual students — including a schoolwide student average and subgroups of students.

DeGrow notes that permitting the proposed Detroit Education Commission to create such a grading system and rule on the fate of schools that do not perform to its standards could tilt the playing field against charter schools and cut off options for students who need them most.

The commission could bolster its own power and limit competition from charters by setting the bar high enough that few or no charter schools could earn an A or B.

Read the full op-ed in The Detroit News.

Read the full Midland Daily News op-ed.

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