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Fact-Checking Teacher Union Math on Detroit Schools

Follow the union dues

Michigan Education Association President Steve Cook recently chimed in with the union’s views on what to do with the insolvent and academically failing Detroit Public Schools. Detroit teachers are actually represented by a different union, but the MEA is still the state’s largest and most influential teachers union.

Some of Cook’s claims deserve a closer look:

The state is to blame for all of the DPS debt

Cook wrote: “A state House plan seeks to pay the DPS debt incurred under state control.”

In November 2005, voters elected a new Detroit school board to replace a committee the Legislature had installed. The committee implemented by the Legislature was known officially as the "reform board" and was in control of DPS. The majority of its members were appointed by the city’s mayor. For two years, the new school board incurred no new debt from overspending its budget. But by the 2007-08 school year, the district again overspent itself into a $139.7 million deficit, which it had to borrow money to cover. Overspending happened again the next year, and the debt jumped to $219.0 million. At that point, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed an emergency manager to take control of the district’s finances, effective March 2, 2009. DPS hasn’t been out of debt or state receivership since.

Charters don’t outperform conventional counterparts

Cook wrote: “The proliferation of charter schools in Detroit has diverted scarce resources away from neighborhood schools, contributing to the financial — and physical — deterioration of Detroit Public Schools. Many of these charters haven’t outperformed their traditional DPS counterparts in student achievement.”

Gary Naeyaert of the Great Lake Education Project has assembled a chart showing how students in all Detroit public schools — both public charter schools and conventional district schools — performed on the state’s standardized test. Naeyaert found that while there are exceptions on both sides, Detroit charter schools clearly have, for the most part, outperformed their conventional school counterparts.

Charter schools need to be rationed and closed

Cook wrote: “There is a strong need for an oversight body which could coordinate the opening and closing of both charters and neighborhood schools based on community need. The city currently has an oversupply of schools in some areas, while in other parts of the city, more schools are needed.”

It is not hard to understand why the head of the state’s largest teachers union wants to give a city and school district long run by Democrats the power to close charter schools: Of the approximately 300 charter schools in the state, only six are unionized. That means there are about 10,000 Michigan charter schoolteachers who belong to no union and pay no union dues. Each represents about $1,000 in annual dues that teachers unions believe properly belong to them.