U.S. Education Secretary criticizes Legislature for inaction on DPS

BOSTON – The U.S. Secretary of Education blasted the Michigan Legislature on Monday for inaction regarding Detroit Public Schools’ financial troubles, expressing frustration with Lansing in an ongoing crisis that critics say could negatively affect Detroit children.

The remarks from the U.S. education chief add a new level of criticism regarding the pace of negotiations in Lansing to bring stability to the state’s largest school district, which has been under state control for most of the 2000s.

In an on-the-record Q-and-A at the Education Writers Association conference in Boston, which Bridge Magazine attended, John B. King Jr. said he was uncertain whether the Legislature would to take action to resolve the financial crisis by June 30, after which DPS officials say the district will not be able to pay many teachers and staff.

“The lack of concern for people is disturbing,” King said, in reference to the legislature.

King said he had spoken recently with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and others in Michigan about the situation, and he believed the legislature wasn’t moving quickly enough.

King's criticism didn't sit well with Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

“The secretary’s comments are irresponsible," Pscholka told Bridge late Monday. "Here we are poised to spend between 500 and 700 million dollars. The bills we have in committee coming up tomorrow (Tuesday) not only will pay off the debt, but we’re also setting aside money to make sure teachers get paid back for loans (they) paid to the district.

“That’s why today’s sick outs, the timing was terrible," he said, referring to teacher walkouts Monday that closed classes nearly across the district. "Especially when you’re trying to rebuild enrollment. I don’t know how you rebuild trust when you don’t show up for work.”

Gov. Rick Snyder has urged the Republican-dominated legislature to swiftly approve more than $700 million in aid to the debt-ridden district. Detroit schools are currently operated under $48.7 million in state emergency aid, which was only intended to last through the current school year.

Even if a resolution is reached, King said in Boston, “I’m afraid (it) will be of a temporary nature, and not permanent.” He called Detroit’s financial struggles part of a long-term pattern of disinvestment in urban school districts.

King’s comments come amid increasing public pressure on the Legislature to pass a more permanent funding package for the troubled school district beyond June 30. On Monday, a citywide teacher sick-out and protests forced the cancellation of classes at more than 90 DPS schools.

As protesters gathered outside the headquarters of the state’s largest school district, Judge Steven Rhodes, the state-appointed emergency manager for DPS, said at a press conference inside that state lawmakers should act swiftly  to approve the longer-term aid package. Approval, he said, would bring stability to Detroit schools and their teachers, some of whom wouldn’t be paid, even for work they’d already performed, under the current allocation of funds.

"We will not be able to operate after June 30," Rhodes said, according to the Detroit News. "Everyone who has a stake in this should urge the legislators to act promptly."

It’s not at all certain the sick out by Detroit teachers or a rebuke from President Obama’s education chief will produce the intended results. Indeed, the teacher actions on Monday were greeted with regret by the governor and outright scorn by Republican legislative leaders.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant, called the planned sick out illegal, counterproductive and self-interested.

“The Detroit Federation of Teachers is once again putting the wants of adults ahead of the needs of children, specifically the 40,000 Detroit schoolchildren who were left out in the rain this morning,” Cotter said in a statement.

“Their selfish and misguided plea for attention only makes it harder for us to enact a rescue plan and makes it harder for Detroit’s youngest residents to get ahead and build a future for themselves.”

Pscholka dismissed any suggestion that lawmakers would not take care of longer-term funding for Detroit's schools. “This is our constitutional duty to take care of this issue and we will do it," he said.

Of King, Pscholka said, "It sounds to me like this was kind of an off-the-cuff remark. I think it’s off target and another case of, ‘Let’s use kids as human shields, politically.’ And I’ve really had enough of that.”


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Mon, 05/02/2016 - 9:50pm
White republicans don't like African-Americans and don't feel comfortable dealing with them, that is a major part of the problem here.
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 11:01am
It's not that they don't like them. It's just hard to deal with them. In a business or governmental bodies with common diversity it is very easy to manage and not be called out as discriminatory in action. When it is a minority group everything one does is discriminatory even when it is exactly the same thing done elsewhere. Data don't lie is a common saying, even though not really proper grammar. DPS so badly failed in so many ways that it truly should be a dead entity. No business in the world would still be around if even half of the inept actions of DPS were done. I truly believe that the only way forward and best for the students is to disband DPS entirely and build an all new education system. Completely right size and capture the best of the the remains of DPS and start anew. No emergency manager can bail a ship with all the holes of DPS and it's simply not fair to say they have failed. It is an impossible task.
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 12:00am
Great article. I'm glad someone sees the urgency. The Michigan legislators, especially, Speaker Cotter, should step down. The legislators are the ones that are egotistical and are being selfish and not considering the students of the City of Detroit or the educators who give their all to teach and nurture the students. I'm still in awe of their childish antics and their disregard of the importance of education.
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 10:44am
Did we read the same article?
Tania Chico
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 3:09am
I love teaching. I do. I would love to be at work. I love the planning, the notes, and the sharing of day-to-day experiences. I LOVE seeing kids learn something. Ah! The light goes on! Mrs. Chico, did you know? Me... WHAT?? Tell me more... I love the power that learning gives my kids. It builds a bridge. It is a future, an open road. Here's my secret... school saved me. There were so many ups and downs, but the teachers, they always were a solid foundation. There were funny ones and cuddly ones (my first grade teacher), and some I don't quite remember-but needed, and strict ones-ouch!, but they all passed on a torch of the value of learning, working hard, having a dream, and caring about myself. They were all special. No doubt, most have retired by now, but they would be sad to hear state legislators vilify their honored profession and those of us who picked up the torch. I know what they would say... Are you right? If so, stand up for yourself, chin up, be respectful and kind, but (I'm from New Orleans, so here it comes...) don't take their shit. Yep, I went there. But, it's true and real; just like they were to me. So, it's time to loudly call out for equality and not bend to the bullying and chastising our state reps are spewing. They are failing to act with equality and fairness for all the people invested in our school system. Give teachers a seat at the table! Pay teachers and staff on time without threats and drama. Guarantee wages and benefits equal to surrounding districts in the tri-county area, PLEASE audit the books, steady the ship, and support the workers instead of constant bullying, name calling, and threats. If they do their job, then I can continue to live out my dream. Hey, kiddo guess what? We have some fun things planned for today! Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 5:09am
Teachers refusing to work when indeed their earned salaries cannot be promised is illegal and shameful in the eyes of Michigan legislators, but the laws passed that same legislation that enacted sole financial control from emergency managers appointed by the governor is not. Those same emergency managers ballooned the deficit, and under their watch 30 million dollars in pension savings is missing but teachers should hold heir heads in shame. That's insanity!
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 10:40am
This has been such a systemic catastrophe for so long that many people no longer can see the forest for the trees when it relates to the disinvestment in our public schools and the devaluation of public education in general in Michigan and sadly in many other states. Our law makers are more than happy to allow state take-overs to drive districts even deeper in debt or to destroy the districts as public schools and reinvent them as charter schools. We don't seem to care when laws are passed which allow lame online education companies to receive the same foundation allowance per pupil as a public school while providing little that matches the quality or the quantity of the services provided by community public schools. In fact many of the students who pursue education through these providers earn few if any actual credits, and they wind up back on the doorstep of the public school older and more deficit in the credits required for graduation and highly likely to become drop-outs (who will be counted against the public school in state reports). We voted "no" when vouchers were on our ballots, sending our elected officials a message that we do not want public funds to support non public schools. This just made Richard DeVos and like-minded supporters find a new approach: buy enough seats in the legislature, redistrict skillfully so as to insure that votes of the people get marginalized, and then pass laws that can't be overturned by referendums. It's working fabulously! We have cut real money for public education, but we have somehow been told that there is more money than ever going to our schools. Schools have been cutting staff and programs for over a decade, contracts have been negotiated with small or no raises or regressive salaries, our buildings are crumbling in many districts; but we seem unwilling to give much more than lip service to the need for supporting public schools. I'm sure there are wonderful private schools and charters and online providers who could do an even better job with their students with the support of public funds. The reality is, however, that they won't do much to impact the education of most of the students in Michigan especially students of color or students in rural areas or students who live in poverty. Public education was a great factor in the creation of the greatest democracy in the history of mankind. It should alarm all of us to see public education under attack. As public education goes so goes our democratic principles.
Nancy Patterson
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 2:59pm
Teachers in a district in my area, West Michigan, have been told there is no money for school supplies, materials, field trips, new textbooks, or, surprise, raises. In addition, teachers are not allowed to run anything in their classrooms that uses extra electricity, and they must severely limit copies. This district, by the way, serves are suburban population. I expect such edicts in large urban districts, but not more affluent suburban districts. Honestly, 15 years of tax cuts have damaged schools' abilities' to educate Michigan's children. Fund schools, stop micromanaging curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and let teachers do their jobs. I don't know how much more legislative interference schools can survive.
Tue, 05/03/2016 - 8:20pm
Legislatures refused to give a commitment to ensure teachers are paid the salary they earned this school year... This is pitiful!!! The federal government needs to get involved now. How do you agree to give 500 million without looking over the books...why because the real debt and stealing came from under the leadership of the state of Michigan, Governor Synder, by way of the appointed emergency managers! What's worse is that the legislatures want to make teachers beg for the common decency and respect given to our suburban counterparts...they act as if they are doing us a favor by cleaning up the financial crisis that teachers did not create yet this passage is punitive towards the very people that choose to stay and make a difference in a bad situation. Shame on you all that voted for this legislation! Many people don't know that DPS teachers already loaned th district almost 10,000 each, have been under a 10% pay cut, pay steps frozen, 20% health care cost which forced us into HAP Henry Ford, higher dental premiums, 3% health care to "guarantee" healthcare when we retire...this does not include poor working conditions and limited resources at times. Through all of this DPS teachers make a positive difference in th live of children on a daily basis!!!!!! God will still get the glory in this all!!!!!!
Chuck Jordan
Wed, 05/04/2016 - 12:11pm
So what would you do if you were told that you would not be paid for the work you have done, but must continue to work anyway?
Sun, 05/08/2016 - 10:57am
Very disheartening to read last week that extra classes were to be given to teach the soft skills necessary for obtaining a job, such as showing up on time, or even just showing up. I know this is not directly related to this article but it shows how far down we have gone when something as basic as that must be taught. No amount of money will fix that. It must be done in the home or absorbed as a basic means of survival.