Mayor Mike Duggan

Week in review: When state education dollars fund horseback riding and Minecraft

In a state where vouchers are illegal because the Constitution bans the use of public dollars for private schools, Michigan lawmakers have dramatically expanded a program that offers a legal way to use public dollars to serve students in non-public schools. That legislative support — including from lawmakers closely allied with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — has nearly tripled the size of the program, with costs ballooning from $48 million to $133 million in the last seven years. The program, called shared time, has gotten so big that Gov. Rick Snyder now says it’s gotten out of hand and wants to rein it in. But supporters argue that the highly unusual program helps private schoolers and homeschoolers, while giving some traditional school districts a financial boost.

“It’s puzzling and sort of surprising to a lot of us that this governor, who was in favor of it and had a hand in expanding it, is now making a pretty draconian shift away from expansion. It looks to me like he’s trying to kill it.”

— Dennis McDavid, Superintendent, Berkley schools

Also this week, we wrote about the state quietly releasing a new 100-point rating system for schools that, in some ways, is much kinder to struggling urban districts like Detroit’s than the state’s former top-to-bottom list. We looked at final, audited student enrollment numbers in Detroit that confirmed the district has increased enrollment for the first time in years — but not by as much as it appeared last fall. We noted that three Detroit charter schools are among those added to the state’s “partnership” list. We took a look at a video that champions a charter school’s fight to buy a former district school building. And we noted that the low turnout at a district enrollment event speaks to larger challenges that Detroit schools face as they try to sign up new students.

Scroll down for more on all of these stories, and the rest of the week’s headlines. And thanks for reading!

— Erin Einhorn, Chalkbeat Detroit Bureau Chief

Sharing time and keeping score

In Detroit

  • While Detroit district enrollment is up, charter enrollment is a mixed bag. Numbers are down in Wayne County but up in Oakland and Macomb Counties.
  • The low turnout at the district’s weeklong enrollment event highlights the challenges Detroit schools face as they try to convince parents to sign up for school earlier in the year.
  • A new video about a charter school’s fight to buy a former district school building shows that the charter plans to be in its new building by December.
  • That charter school was also a stop on an education advocate’s “innovation road trip.”
  • Though Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says the district finally has the money to hire art and gym teachers, actually finding teachers to take the jobs could be difficult.
  • A city crime reduction program that puts security cameras on buildings is now in a district school, with the cameras paid for by a private donation.
  • As Mayor Mike Duggan pushes a bus route that would serve district and charter school students, one local professor says the effort brings to mind Detroit’s fraught history with school busing.

Across the state

  • Snyder has signed into law a proposal to relax some requirements for new teachers. The measure is intended to help alleviate the teacher shortage.
  • A prominent Michigan business leader laments the lack of leadership that has led to yet another study showing Michigan schools have fallen behind without much action taken. “We know what to do,” he writes. “We choose not to do it.”
  • The state Supreme Court will hear a case next week about whether school districts are allowed to ban guns in schools.
  • Michigan has one of the largest populations of homeless students in the country — and the problem is not just limited to big cities like Detroit.
  • A study found that Michigan’s largest charter school operator, a for-profit company, has helped students make modest gains in math (but not reading) compared to other schools.
  • These retired school administrators are collecting the state’s highest pension payouts, with some getting more than twice the average teacher’s pay.

In other news

  • Tens of thousands of students will descend on Detroit this month for a major robotics competition.
  • United Way of Southeast Michigan named the superintendent of Milwaukee schools — who started her career as a teacher in Detroit’s main district — as its new CEO.
  • More than 100 false threats have been made against schools across the Detroit area. As state and federal law enforcement agencies warn that they’ll aggressively pursue people who make threats, these are some of the students who’ve been charged.
  • Some local teachers, meanwhile, are getting guns and learning how to use them.
  • An unlikely team of five girls at a Detroit Catholic school made it all the way to the Catholic Youth Organization championship game. (this is not, per se, an education story but it’s included here because it’s a fun read and these girls are awesome!)