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On count day, all eyes on Detroit Public Schools

An empty classroom
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
O.k., o.k., we know this one is empty, but some high school students in the Detroit Public Schools say their classroom are far from empty.

Tomorrow is count day for Michigan's public schools.

The more students a school has in attendance on count day, the more money they get from the state.

It's a make or break day for Detroit Public Schools.

After months of sales pitches, finding out how many students enrolled

The district has spent months trying to recruit kids away from charter schools and private academies.

School employees say they used the summer to go door-to-door, host BBQs, visit churches, and hold Saturday open houses, all to woo parents who’ve either pulled their kids out of DPS in the past, or whose kids are now old enough for school.

It’s all part of what DPS hopes is a turnaround year for both the district, and their public image.

They got a lot of press around 2009 when their student test scores were among the lowest in the nation.  

A “dream come true” budget, so long as the kids show up

DPS says if they can bring in 5,000 more students than they had last year, then they won't have to lay off teachers or increase class sizes.

And that’s not all: the return of art and music, more athletics, better bussing options, more parent resources, community centers, safer routes to school…

The list of new improvements goes on.

But much of it could depend on whether that 5,000 new student campaign was a success.

If the district comes up short (which is what demographers predict) that optimistic budget will have to be cut.

District spokesperson Steven Wasko says they’ll try and keep those cuts “away from the classroom,” but that district administrators don’t have a specific plan for what would have to go first.

In Detroit, more schools competing for fewer students

Every year, more kids leave the city of Detroit, according to Wasko, and more charter and private school options are popping up all the time.

That’s largely because the public school system was seen as such a failure, that parents and families were desperate for alternative education.

Wasko says those options keep growing: this year, he says 9 new charter schools are opening, and 11 other charters are adding grade levels or new campuses to their existing offerings.

Still, on the eve of count day, Wasko says about 8,800 new students have enrolled in DPS this year.

That leaves the big question unanswered: how many students have left?

The results of count day aren’t immediately released. It could be weeks until final figures are published. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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