Governor’s Education Reform Plans Lead to Uncertainty, Controversy, and Protest

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source: Green & Write, December 8, 2015

A recent article in the Detroit Free Press highlighted serious teacher shortages in Detroit Public Schools (DPS). There are currently at least 135 teaching vacancies in the district and more are anticipated after the holidays, when other teachers are not expected to return. This problem is not new – in September 2014, there were reportedly over 100 vacancies. While rising health care costs and uncompetitive salaries have contributed to the problem, the uncertainty of what Governor Snyder has planned for the district may be what is driving many teachers away.

Uncertainty for Detroit Teachers

Last April, Governor Snyder announced plans to create a new school district – Detroit Community School District – to take over every aspect of DPS operations except for its $500 million operating debt. When this announcement was made, DPS had to close 18 schools for the day because teachers skipped work in order to rally against Governor Snyder’s proposal for the city. Detroit Federation of Teachers President Steve Conn expressed concerns that Snyder’s plan would mean more charter schools and increased DPS closures. As Snyder continues to move forward with a legislation package to replace DPS, teachers are feeling uncertain about the future of their positions.

Controversy Surrounding Snyder’s Reorganization Decisions

Snyder also generated controversy in March of last year when he moved the State School Reform/Design Office (SRO) from the Michigan Department of Education to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget. The SRO works to improve

Photo Courtesy of Office of Governor Rick Snyder

Photo Courtesy of Office of Governor Rick Snyder

priority schools, or the bottom 5% of Michigan’s schools. The State Board of Education urged Snyder to reconsider the decision, arguing that the reorganization violates the state constitution because it puts the State School Reform/Design office directly under his control. Detroit is disproportionately affected by Snyder’s controversial reorganization decision. More than 40 of the 214 priority schools overseen by the SRO are located in Detroit. Now that priority schools are being overseen by an office directly under the governor’s control, Detroit has even less autonomy over its schools.

Protest Over Detroit’s Lack of Autonomy

482Forward, a community organizing network in Detroit, has put together an Educational Justice March from Detroit to Lansing beginning on November 30 and set to end on December 8. The march intends to protest the lack of community input and control over Detroit’s schools, as well as the many charter school authorizers operating in the city. Protestors intend to arrive at the Capitol as legislators return from their holiday break and begin work on Snyder’s plan for Detroit schools.

Major Plans, Major Consequences

Governor Snyder’s plan for Detroit is a significant departure from that status quo, and this departure has significant implications. Doubts about the future of DPS are leaving Detroit’s students without teachers. The constitutionality of Snyder’s movement of the SRO is being called into question. And community members are organizing in protest against Detroit’s diminishing control over its schools. In order for Snyder to have the impact he intends to have, it’s time to consider how these reform efforts are actually impacting the community they are intended to help.

Contact Amy: aulettoa@msu.edu

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.