INTRO: From January to April, metro Detroit leaders formed the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children. They’re trying to end a crisis.
Only 4 percent of Detroit 4th graders are proficient in math. Compare that to Cleveland where 13% of 4th graders are proficient in math. Miami is 35% proficient. White kids in Michigan a few years ago were close to the top in overall achievement. Now they’re about 45th out of 50 states. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus recaps a panel discussion from Mackinac Island.
In the last 15 years, three-quarters of Detroit Public School students have left. They’ve left for charters, private schools and the suburbs. The state has been running DPS that whole time. DPS is $2 billion in debt. The Skillman Foundation has advocated for Detroit children’s welfare for decades. Tonya Allen is Skillman’s President and CEO.
“I think we’re going to have some local control on this. It has to be at a municipal level. We need to see the entire picture because there are so many entities and interests in that landscape. That’s something we can do immediately. We can do common enrollment and we need to start tackling this question of transportation.”
Another co-chair of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children was John Rakolta. He’s a Bloomfield Hills republican who runs a construction company. Rakolta says the state has wrecked Detroit’s schools. He blames republican legislators for failing to take responsibility. This winter he followed a mother as she took her kids to school.
“So I’ll make this short. I showed up at their doorstep at 6:15. We walked seven blocks to a bus. It was cold. I knew it was going to be cold. I was still cold. I was dressed in all my great football gear. It wasn’t enough. I stood at a bus stop for thirty minutes waiting for the bus. Got on the bus. To my surprise. Mayor Duggan kudos to you, I was the only white guy on the bus, but other than that I felt safe, everybody was courteous. The bus was clean. The bus was on time. But we only went three miles. We got off. I said ok what’s next. We gotta walk five more blocks.
“I figure we were going to a school. No. We’re going to another bus stop. We wait at that bus stop for another thirty minutes. By this time I am so cold I pull out my Iphone I am looking for Uber to pick me up. No Uber. We wait thirty minutes we get on a bus we go one mile. We get off the bus. We walk her one kid to school four blocks, then double back eight blocks to drop the daughter off. 6:15 to 5 minutes to 8. It took an hour and 45 minutes to get those two kids to school. This is what this mother endured every single day there and back.”
State takeover of the Detroit Public Schools began in 1999. The decline accelerated when the first emergency manager came in 2009. City and state taxpayers paid hundreds of millions for new programs and building renovations. Yet over a hundred school buildings have been closed, sometimes demolished and tossed into land fills. John Rakolta is a civil engineer.
“Everyone has got to walk out of this room committed whether you are in favor of charter schools or DPS or whatever. This has to be the number one issue of our state going forward. I’m a contractor and I love to build roads. In my view it’s more important than roads. And to the republicans that are in this room? I am not interested in the tax cut for my self. And I think a large portion of the middle class isn’t interested in the tax cut either. We’re interested in saving our state.”
The governor says 80,000 skilled jobs are available right now. But they can’t be filled. Generations of people might never acquire the skills if the state doesn’t invest in their education. Rakolta is suggesting an Uber system for school transportation. He and Tonya Allen want Lansing to swallow the DPS debt.