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.