HB 4047, sponsored by Bettie Scott and co-sponsored by 21 other Democrats, is deceptively simple. The entire substance of the bill is as follows:
A school district that was a first class school district as of September 1, 2008 shall continue to be considered to be a first class school district until July 1, 2010 regardless of its pupil membership.
"First class" school districts are defined as those having at least 100,000 students. Of course, the only "first class" school district in the state is the Detroit Public School District (the next largest is Utica with 29,000). With its declining student base, however, DPS is threatening to fall into the category of "general powers" districts. According to the Senate Fiscal Agency, Detroit has lost more than 72,000 students since 2000. That's 43 percent of previous enrollment. Enrollment in the current year is expected to be about 96,000, down from over 168,000 in 2000. So, the effect of this bill, if it becomes law, is to prolong DPS's "first class" status, without regard to enrollment.
Why does this matter? Here's what the House Legislative Analysis says:
In Michigan law "first class" districts operate under a different set of state regulations from "general powers" districts. The sections of the Revised School Code dealing with "first class" districts address school board composition, school board officers, school board meeting locations, board member personal interest in contacts, required annual audits, voting procedures, public communication, condemnation proceedings, bond sales, contracts, and public safety. The law also limits the creation of charter schools in such a district. And, there are also references in many other statutes to "first class" school districts.
There's the rub -- the bill would protect the present school board and, most importantly, limit the creation of charter schools in Detroit. There are four groups that can legally "charter" a school: universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts, or K-12 districts. Universities have reached their limit, and no intermediate or K-12 districts will charter schools in Detroit, leaving only community colleges who could do so. But, current Michigan law prohibits community colleges from chartering schools in "first class" districts.
The effect of this bill, therefore, is to prevent educational competition in Detroit, protecting one of the most incompetent and most poorly run educational enterprises in the entire country.
Not surprisingly, the entire educational establishment has lined up in favor of this bill, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Michigan Education Association, several members of the Detroit Board of Education, and the acting Detroit superintendent.
I hestitate to ask this, but has anyone asked how this bill might affect Detroit's students? Granted, there are fewer of them every year, but perhaps running DPS could be a little more about education and a little less about protecting petty fiefdoms and defending incompetence.