Detroit Dems: DPS bills for kids or lobbyists?

Posted at 6:29 PM, Jun 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-07 22:28:44-04

Detroit Democrats say the Detroit Public Schools bills passed in the House send a message about who is really running the state.

Their allegation? It isn’t lawmakers representing their voters. 

Today in Lansing there were about as many lobbyists as lawmakers fighting to sway Senators considering the House Detroit Public Schools bills. They represented unions, Mayor Duggan and the City of Detroit, districts outside Detroit, taxpayers, and charter schools.

Senator Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) says when he looks at the DPS bills passed by the House, he sees the influence of one family in particular.

"It is Dick DeVos and charter schools,” said Sen. Young II. "He is showing everybody he is the big dog in the yard. He says jump, the Republicans say how high. He says run, they say how fast. That’s what this is.”

Young points to the fact that the DeVos family has donated thousands of dollars to lawmakers such as Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter.

Plus, in just the first quarter of this year, the DeVos family donated about $250,000 to the Great Lakes Education Project, an organization that says its goal is to support quality choices in the form of charter schools in Michigan. Betsy DeVos is on the GLEP Board of Directors.

Young says DeVos and the GLEP basically bought the House Bills.

GLEP is lobbying for the passage of the House plan. Young says the GLEP likes this plan because it goes relatively easy on charter schools in comparison to the Senate plan.

The Senate plan called for a Detroit Education Commission lead by the mayor and others. It would have the power to close failing schools and to control when, where, and if schools - public and charter - open in the city.

The mayor said without coordination there will be wasteful competition. He said there are neighborhoods right now with far too many schools, and others with none because there is no coordination between public schools and public charter schools.

The House plan calls on charters to become accredited by a national entity in order to open, but does not create a Detroit Education Commission.

It instead creates an advisory board to weigh in on the opening of charter schools and to communicate where schools are most needed.

Democrats say such an advisory board would not have enough power to ensure only the most successful charters open and to make sure tax dollars aren’t wasted on numerous schools that open in an area where they aren’t needed.

“This bill is so charter management coorporations can get profit from it. Since 80% of charters are for profit, this isn’t about educating children. It is about getting their check,” said Young.

Gary Naeyaert is Executive Director of the Great Lakes Education Project. He says he doesn’t agree with the allegation that the GLEP and the DeVos family bought a bill. 

Naeyaert says Young is simply upset that Republicans, not Democrats, are in control.

Naeyaert says GLEP’s goal is to use charter schools to create competition that improves academic achievement.

“Year after year, for the last 20 years, parents have spoken with their feet and moved their children out of DPS," he says. "This healthy competition will continue. The parents will be the beneficiaries and the student’s.”

"If they had their way, they would destroy DPS entirely,” said Sen. Young. "They don’t give a damn. They would wipe DPS off the face of the map, and it is sad because they aren’t producing a product that is any better."

Even if the GLEP had influence on the House DPS Bills, the Senate also needs to approve the bills.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said Tuesday he doesn’t yet have the 19 votes needed to pass the House's Detroit Public Schools Bills out of his chamber.

Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Muskegon County) is one of the lawmakers who says he won’t vote for it as it is. He is also the senator who sponsored the Senate DPS Bills that the House refused to consider and instead wrote their own.

Hansen and Meekhof said the House bills simply don't provide enough money to the problem. They say a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis said the bills present an $88.1 million drain on the School Aid Fund. 

Many senators do not want to see money taken out of the School Aid Fund, because they don’t want to take money from other schools for DPS.

The Senate is expected to continue negotiating a solution on Wednesday. 

If bills aren't passed, DPS could face bankruptcy.