Former Detroit Teacher’s Open Letter to Snyder

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Billionaire Dick DeVos and one of his Detroit victims. (MLive/USUncut)

Last night, the Michigan Senate passed bills to relieve the Detroit Public Schools of state-created debt. After Republicans in the Michigan House refused to compromise, the Senate bills were passed without their original centerpiece, a Detroit Education Commission that would have the authority over public school and charter school openings. The DEC had been supported by a broad coalition that included teachers, the Skillman Foundation and the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The outcome was a victory for for-profit charter school operators, who generate millions in profits using public education dollars, and for the billionaire DeVos dynasty of Grand Rapids, which has pushed a privatized education system for decades. The bills now go to Governor Snyder’s desk.

The following is an open letter to Snyder by former Detroit Public Schools teacher Regina Weiss, urging him not to sign the bills.

Governor Rick Snyder,

I am an educator and a former Detroit Public Schools teacher. In fact, I moved to the city of Detroit in 2011 with the sole purpose of teaching in the Detroit Public Schools. I taught in DPS for three years, and left the district in 2014 when it was pretty clear that I would no longer be able to afford to pay my mortgage and other bills on my meager salary.

It broke my heart to leave the district and my kids. It still breaks my heart today to think about it.

As someone who worked in the trenches of the Detroit Public Schools, I know better than most across the State just how desperately the district needs restructuring and reform.

As an educator, historian, and activist, I have a good understanding of how the District got to where it is today. I know, as do other teachers and parents in Detroit, what needs to be done to restore some sense of balance and equity to the district.

But, I’m not writing to give you a history lesson. Though, if you’d like one, please let me know and I’d be happy to oblige. I’m not even writing to tell you my views on how to start fixing the district (again, happy to oblige if you’d like; just let me know).

The reason why I’m writing to you is because of the travesty that happened in the Senate tonight. The legislation that has passed first through the House and now the Senate is the exact opposite of what Detroit kids and families need.

I am writing to ask you to do one simple thing: Refuse to sign the bill. Ball it up and throw it in the trash, where it belongs.

Governor Snyder, you do not need to be complacent in the destruction of public education within the city of Detroit. You know as well as anyone that this plan is garbage. The reforms that the original Senate plan proposed, while imperfect and a far cry from real sustainable change, would have at least been a slight move in the right direction.

This bastardization of “reform,” however, is designed to do nothing other than dismantle public education in the city and replace it with a for-profit, unregulated charter system (funded largely by the DeVos family) that will benefit only the special interests (and the politicians whose campaigns they fund) who make money on the backs of underprivileged children.

Do not put your signature on this bill. You have a choice, and you know what the consequences of your actions are. This bill is the Flint Water Crisis of education reform. Please, stand up and say no. You are the only hope right now for preserving public education in Detroit and protecting kids and families. Please, do the right thing.

Forgotten School’s Story Holds Key to DPS Woes

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The old school is just visible above Spain Elementary (foreground) and Ben Carson (right).

Half-hidden behind two newer school buildings, a stone’s throw from busy Mack Avenue in the heart of the Detroit Medical Center campus, a hundred-year-old brick structure in Midtown Detroit hides an extraordinary story.

In 2016, as the Michigan Legislature debates the future of the Detroit Public Schools, the tale of Detroit’s forgotten Lincoln School holds the key to understanding what has become of Michigan’s largest public school district.

It’s a story that Michigan has forgotten for a reason. Continue reading “Forgotten School’s Story Holds Key to DPS Woes”

A New Arena, A Shuttered School, and an Immoral Legislature

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A month or two ago, I was arriving in Detroit from Ann Arbor on the Greyhound bus when something outside the window caught my eye: the juxtaposition of a shuttered public school, just off the I-75 service drive, with the flashing lights of the Motor City Casino behind it, and the new Red Wings arena – built with public funding – rising not far away.

After getting off the bus, I biked over and took a few photos, with the idea for a “meme,” like the one above, already in my head. Over the past few weeks, the Michigan Legislature’s refusal to allocate funding to the Detroit Public Schools made the grotesque immorality of the situation increasingly evident. I posted the image on my Facebook page around 4 pm yesterday, the second day of the DPS sickout, with the statement “Emergency management is never having to say you’re sorry.”

A day later, it’s been shared 674 times. I suppose you could say it struck a chord. (Update: up to 714 since I began writing this post.)

A little background: “Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor” is a phrase that has taken on a life of its own, but it was popularized (as “socialism for the rich, free enterprise for the poor”) by the late Michael Harrington, author of The Other America and longtime president of the Democratic Socialists of America. Harrington borrowed the phrase from the illustrious but now sadly forgotten housing expert and social reformer Charles Abrams, also of New York City, in describing the regressive effects of federal housing policy.

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Michael Harrington (left) and Charles Abrams (right – but also left, politically).

The hockey arena, now to be known as the Little Caesars Arena after its owners, the Ilitch family, is financed by 58% public funding, or $261 million in Michigan taxpayer dollars. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, the funding comes in the form of a state bond issue which is to be paid back by the Detroit Downtown Development Authority (DDA), using its property tax collection powers, by the year 2045. A 2014 ruling by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette cleared the way for the DDA to collect tax dollars that would otherwise go towards the state School Aid Fund, to the tune of $15 million per year.

That’s a somewhat different timetable than the one-time injection of money that DPS needs to stay afloat after years of state emergency management. But nonetheless, the state Legislature’s eagerness to satisfy the appetites of a billionaire pizza dynasty – and its contrasting indifference to the plight of tens of thousands of impoverished, often malnourished schoolchildren – is nothing short of scurrilous.

Perhaps ironically, the school featured in the photograph, at the interchange of I-75 and the Lodge, is the Benjamin Franklin School, opened in 1865 and shuttered in 2010 after stints as the Burton International Academy and an adult education center. The existing structure dates to 1922.

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Detroiter Isaiah Burnett takes a shot on the Franklin School’s basketball court, March 2016.

As the publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanack, among other pursuits, Benjamin Franklin popularized a variety of sayings. Among them: “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.”

That is a truth that the Republicans in the Michigan House seem determined to prove.