Questions, answers about plan for Detroit school district

AP News
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Posted: May 01, 2015 12:17 AM
Questions, answers about plan for Detroit school district

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder wants to overhaul Detroit's troubled state-run school district and divide its operations to address the "crushing" debt he says is hurting education in the city.

Some questions and answers about the wide-ranging plan, which needs approval from the Michigan Legislature:

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WHAT ARE THE MAIN POINTS OF THE PROPOSAL?

Under the plan unveiled Thursday, an entirely new Detroit school district would be created to handle the academic operations of the city's public schools. The existing district would be kept intact to collect existing taxes and pay off $483 million in debt. The Legislature would direct $72 million more annually over seven years to the new district. The new district would have a universal enrollment system in which parents would rank their top three school choices for their children. An education manager would be hired to determine if failing schools should be closed.

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WHAT IMPACT WOULD IT HAVE ON SCHOOLCHILDREN?

Those attending traditional schools could have more options, while those attending charters might have less, depending on whether they can attend their top pick. A lottery system would be used if a school is in too much demand. Students at traditional schools now attend based on proximity to their home or by applying to specialty schools. Many students attend charter schools, some of which are authorized by the district and others by universities or others.

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HAS THIS BEEN DONE ANYWHERE ELSE?

To a certain extent, yes. Since 2012, four other Michigan school districts have received additional aid to address their operating deficits. Two were dissolved. Two others — in Muskegon Heights and Highland Park — were under state management and converted to charter school districts. The original districts remained in existence only to levy taxes.

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HOW DID DETROIT SCHOOLS GET IN SUCH A MESS?

Since 2000, more than a quarter-million people have left the city. Its population now is about 690,000. Fewer children mean less from the state in funding. The district also has lost thousands of students to city charter and suburban schools. More than 177,000 students were enrolled in 263 schools in 1997. Unofficial numbers from last fall showed 47,238 full-time students in 97 schools. More than 40 schools closed in 2010 alone.

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WILL THE GOP-CONTROLLED MICHIGAN LEGISLATURE AGREE TO THE FUNDING?

Snyder, a Republican, faces an uphill climb. Some lawmakers are "bailout"-weary after committing $195 million last year to prevent steeper cuts to city retiree pensions as part of the city's bankruptcy exit.

However, Snyder has some leverage with lawmakers. He says much of the Detroit school district's debt is backed with state credit, so Michigan ultimately is on the hook. He can make a similar argument to the one he made to rescue bankrupt Detroit: The cost of not acting now would make things worse later. Legislators also largely agree that something must be done to turn around a district ranked as the worst urban district in the country in terms of academic performance.

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WHAT DO TEACHERS THINK?

Teachers were unhappy about the plan even before Snyder unveiled it. Classes in 18 Detroit schools were canceled Thursday after 500 of 2,800 teachers took personal days to protest the proposal. They say lawmakers need to address issues in the classroom, including class sizes and supplies.

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WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS FOR DETROIT PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO GET PAST THEIR WOES?

It has made some headway in education with improved scores on standardized tests and higher graduation rates. The district has saved millions of dollars by closing obsolete and half-empty school buildings. But even if its debt is wiped out, the district has done little to attract more students.

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Corey Williams contributed from Detroit.