Coalition leaders renew call for Lansing action, as storm clouds hang over Detroit school landscape

As conditions for Detroit schoolchildren continue to spiral downward, leaders of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren expressed frustration and pressed state leaders to act on its comprehensive and pragmatic Choice Is Ours report, issued in March 2015. 

“We met the challenge Gov. Snyder laid out at the end of 2014, and pulled together a diverse group of community leaders to come up with a comprehensive and reasonable way forward to fix this mess,” said Rev. Wendell Anthony, Fellowship Chapel and president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP. “We did that in a 100 days,” he added. “Everybody knows things are bad, and getting worse. Where is the governor? Where is Lansing? When will the schoolchildren of Detroit get the help they so desperately need?”  

Added Coalition co-chair John Rakolta Jr., CEO of Walbridge: “If this swelling DPS debt, which the state is liable for, isn’t fixed now it’s going to create a hole the size of Lake Erie from which Detroit schoolchildren will never climb out of. There is no magic here. Only heavy lifting can get this done. Detroit is on the economic road to recovery, but it won’t be a real recovery if people don’t have confidence in the city’s education system.”

Coalition co-chair Angela Reyes, executive director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, listed what the volunteers who make up the Coalition have accomplished over the last 13 months: 

  • After forming in December 2014, conducted a rigorous 90-day process that included more than a 100 business and community leaders, educators, and school experts to finalize recommendations;
  • Coalition members and supporters walked to school with several Detroit families to understand the challenges kids face getting to and from school safely and efficiently;
  • Released comprehensive and pragmatic Choice Is Ours report that called on a shared city-state approach to returning Detroit schools to excellence, and that emphasized sweeping education improvements in both the charter and public school sectors, on March 30, 2015;
  • Shared findings with dozens of organizations at more than 100 community outreach meetings;
  • Held standing-room-only session at Mackinac Policy Conference to share report and findings to business and community leaders and Lansing lawmakers;
  • Organized community outreach days in Lansing so lawmakers could hear from Detroit parents and schoolchildren;
  • Shared with Lansing and Detroit press corps compelling initial findings from a study by Boston-based Parthenon-EY about how to transform the Detroit education landscape to ensure the long-term success of its students. 

“Some ill-informed commentators, who know nothing of the deplorable conditions Detroit teachers face, have callously criticized the recent teacher walkouts,” Reyes added. “Teachers need to be in the classroom, we all know that,” she said, “but the real absenteeism issue that is harming Detroit schoolchildren is the legislature, which has been missing in action for an entire year.” 

Added Coalition co-chair David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan/AFL-CIO: “We are working diligently with community leaders, teachers and families to ensure that Detroiters have a strong voice in all of this. Community input is an essential component of our proposed solutions.” 

Tonya Allen, co-chair and Skillman Foundation president & CEO, added: “As Mayor Duggan noted yesterday after touring several schools, we’ve long known that classroom conditions in many Detroit schools – DPS and charter – are heartbreaking. The city’s education system as a whole is failing its students,” Allen added. “Those who serve our kids every day must respond to a higher calling. It’s time for us all to hear that call. We need everyone in the game – parents, teachers, the mayor and the governor and the legislature.”

Coalition co-chairs said they will be listening closely to Gov. Snyder’s State of the State address next week. 

“Gov. Snyder is the chief executive officer of Michigan, and he needs to lead. He has a crisis to manage with DPS and charter schools in Detroit that is every bit as toxic as the Flint water emergency,” said Rev. Anthony. “We need him to shake things up in Lansing and get this done now.” 

The Coalition for the Future of Detroit Schoolchildren formed in December 2014 to produce a set of recommended solutions to improve Detroit schools for all children. The Coalition is an independent body that includes business leaders, education reform activists, parent leaders, teachers, principals, and union representatives. The Coalition’s work is focused on the city’s charter sector, Detroit Public Schools, and the Education Achievement Authority. 

The Coalition’s Steering Committee has 36 members. It is led by five co-chairs: Skillman Foundation President & CEO Tonya Allen; Rev. Wendell Anthony, Fellowship Chapel and president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP; David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan/AFL-CIO; John Rakolta Jr., CEO of Walbridge; and Angela Reyes, executive director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.

A two-page summary, 24-page report, and official recommendations are available at http://choiceisoursdetroit.tumblr.com.

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