Hansen: How we’re saving DPS and school choice

The following op-ed was printed by The Detroit News on March 30, 2016. The piece can also be read online at The Detroit News website.

Sen. Goeff Hansen

Sen. Goeff Hansen

By Sen. Goeff Hansen
34th Senate District

Last week, the Michigan Senate took a significant step toward improving the educational future for the children of Detroit.

Senate Bills 710, 711, and 819-822 forge a path forward for the Detroit Public Schools. As lead negotiator for the Senate, I worked to incorporate the goals of parents, community leaders, educators, local officials and legislators. The result is a comprehensive plan that creates a new community school district, separate from the old DPS and free of debt.

What we now know as DPS will exist to pay the accumulated debt. The plan maintains education choice and improves choice options for parents and students; avoids a lengthy and costly bankruptcy; returns local control to an elected school board; provides oversight of taxpayer dollars; and manages the opening of new schools so that all areas of the Detroit community have access to quality school options.

The Detroit Public Schools district is important to me. I represent the community of Muskegon Heights in Muskegon County. Much like this reform package, the decision was made to separate that school district’s debt using the old district/new district model. I am proud of the progress that continues to be made in Muskegon Heights — children are receiving the education they deserve and the debt is being paid down.

The 47,000 students currently attending DPS deserve the same opportunity to start anew with a quality education system. The sheer size of the debt in DPS far exceeds any other financially struggling school district across the state. Big problems require bold solutions and bold leadership.

The new community school district will include an accountability plan and an education commission. The function of the commission will be to develop siting recommendations for the new district, including the identification of underserved areas known as “priority zones” where school choice options are severely limited.

All schools will be assessed and receive a letter grade of A, B, C, D, E or F. High-performing schools with a letter grade of A or B could replicate freely without approval of the commission. Consistently failing schools will be subject to an intervention plan or be closed. The schools rated in the middle will seek approval of the commission before opening a new building.

Currently within the city there is a serious lack of coordination as it relates to school site planning decisions. This confusion and chaos negatively impacts parents seeking stability and positive educational options for their children. This new level of coordination will bring about increased parental choice and attract new education options for students.

No student in Michigan will receive less money than they do today as a result of this reform. This is a comprehensive plan to ensure Detroit students receive funding for education and that the debt is resolved so other districts in Michigan are not left to pick up the cost of a failing DPS.

If we do not intervene and the district is left to bankruptcy, all schools around the state could share the burden of Detroit’s financial problems. Therefore action is needed to prevent a DPS bankruptcy and preserve a quality education for all Michigan students.

Michigan cannot reach its full potential without a healthy, vibrant Detroit. Thankfully, Detroit is on the rebound with sound financial footing and an improving economy — but a stable education community is necessary in order to ensure the revitalization of the city.

Passage of this bipartisan package by the Senate completes the first step in the legislative process, and I thank my colleagues for their support.

I now urge my colleagues in the Michigan House of Representatives to act swiftly and join us in passing this bipartisan Detroit education proposal to ensure strong, thriving education options for Detroit families.

This op-ed first appeared in The Detroit News. Senator Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12, School Aid, Education. He serves the residents of the 34th Senate District, representing Muskegon, Newaygo, and Oceana counties.

Senate approves bipartisan DPS reform bills

LANSING, Mich. — The state Senate on Tuesday passed a bipartisan package of bills that would provide a fresh start for the more than 47,000 Detroit public schoolchildren who are part of a district that is among the worst in the nation.

Senate Bills 710, 711, 820 and 821, sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, and SBs 819 and 822, sponsored by Sen. David Knezek, D–Dearborn Heights, would create a new Detroit Community District (DCD) to assume the operations of the current Detroit Public Schools (DPS). The new district would operate the schools, and the current Detroit Public Schools district would remain only for the purpose of levying taxes and retiring the district’s debt.

“Students in Detroit deserve to go to school every day knowing they will be safe and knowing their teachers are there waiting to help them learn,” Hansen said. “Unfortunately this too often is not the case. This legislation will give schoolchildren the hope of a new start, with a renewed focus on academic standards that will help them achieve success.”

Under Hansen’s bills, $1,100 per student will be put back into the classroom, instead of paying for debt. The debt load for the DPS, including operating debt, capital debt, unpaid pension and retirement obligations (MPSERS), and proposed transitional operating costs, is expected to be more than $2.25 billion.

Operational responsibilities and assets would be transferred to the Detroit Community District as of July 1, 2016. The DCD would be governed by a nine-member board — seven members elected by city electoral districts and two members elected at large.

Board elections would take place in August 2016 with the elected members taking office following certification of the election. Until the elected board takes office, the DCD would be governed by a transitional manager appointed by the governor.

Some other features of the legislation:
•    A financial review commission (FRC) would oversee the finances of the Detroit Community District, including approval of budgets and contracts;
•    The elected board of the DCD would appoint a superintendent;
•    For a period of five years (subject to one extension), a seven-member education commission appointed by the mayor would develop siting recommendations and oversee the opening of new schools. The commission would include three charter school representatives, three traditional school representatives, and one education expert. High-performing schools would be able to replicate freely without education commission oversight; other schools would have to obtain siting approval from the education commission prior to opening a new school; and
•    The state school reform/redesign officer, with the consultation of the education commission, would develop and implement a local accountability system, assigning letter grades to all public schools in the district. Persistently underperforming schools would be closed or subject to intervention.

Hansen noted that Detroit’s student population continues to decline, student achievement continues to underperform, and graduation rates lag behind state and national averages.

He said that Michigan cannot reach its full potential without a healthy, vibrant Detroit, and that a healthy Detroit must include functioning schools that deliver the same standards that other students receive.

“We have failed the students of Detroit for too long. Now is the time for solutions,” Hansen said. “While these bills alone may not transform DPS, they are critically necessary to begin putting this district on a more sound footing, both financially and educationally.

“The passage of this bipartisan reform package is a victory for the children of Detroit and the next step in ensuring that this crisis is resolved. This legislation will establish stringent academic standards and strict financial measures in the city’s public school system. That is our goal in this legislative process.

“I’m committed to working with my colleagues in the days ahead to refine a Detroit education proposal that ensures strong, thriving public schools in the city.”

SBs 710, 711, and 819 – 822 now head to the Michigan House for further consideration.

Note: Click the image for a print-quality version. This photo and others are also available by clicking the Photowire link, above.

Photo caption: Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, speaks to reporters on the Senate floor after the Senate passed Senate Bills 710, 711, and 819 – 822, measures that would reform Detroit’s public schools. Hansen is the lead sponsor of the legislative package designed to provide a fresh start for the more than 47,000 Detroit public schoolchildren who are part of a district that is among the worst in the nation.

Photo Advisory: Sen. Hansen welcomes Shelby pastors to Senate session

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, welcomed the Rev. Jennifer Holmes Curran and her husband, the Rev. Tony Holmes Curran (left), to the Michigan Capitol on Tuesday. The Holmes Currans are co-pastors of New Hope Community Church in Shelby. Jennifer gave the invocation before the start of Senate session.

Note: Click the image for a print-quality version. This photo and others are also available by clicking the Photowire link, above.

Hansen bill would expand training and education for firefighters

Sen. Goeff Hansen

Sen. Goeff Hansen

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Goeff Hansen introduced legislation on Wednesday that would help ensure Michigan firefighters have access to critical education and training.

Senate Bill 833 would update the definition of “firefighter training” in the state’s Firefighters Training Council Act to reflect new challenges firefighters face while on the job.

“Services provided by firefighters have changed since the law was enacted 50 years ago,” said Hansen, R-Hart. “Today’s firefighters are often primary responders to various local hazards, not only fires. They respond to incidents involving hazardous materials, perform rescue operations in a multitude of circumstances, and some even provide emergency medical services.

“This measure will help ensure these brave individuals get the training and education they need.”

SB 833 would expand education and training programs eligible to receive grants from the Fire Fighter Training Council to include emergency medical service, hazardous material response, technical rescue, airport rescue and firefighting, fire inspection, fire investigation, and fire safety education.

The bill would permit the council to fully utilize the funding available for firefighter training and allows the state fire marshal to deny any grant request that does not meet the requirements of the act.

Funding for firefighter training is made available through the fireworks safety fee assessed on the sale of all fireworks in Michigan and is set aside within the Fireworks Safety Fund.

SB 833 has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.