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Lawmakers show they couldn't care less about the health of Detroit's schools

Jack Lessenberry

When a British Prime Minister sold out Czechoslovakia to the Nazis, Winston Churchill acidly said words to the effect that he had been forced to choose between war and shame.

“He’s chosen shame now; he’ll get war later,” he said.

In Lansing this week, the Michigan Legislature had the choice between a plan that would actually give the Detroit schools a chance to revive, or selling out to the charter school lobby, which wants no restraints on terrible charter schools.

After a day of thinking about it, they unhesitatingly chose shame.

After all, they get lots of campaign contributions from the charters, some of whose members are for-profit companies which seek to take as much of the taxpayers money as possible.

The lawmakers passed a plan which they and the governor pretend gives the public schools a new chance to be competitive. It does nothing of the kind ...

The lawmakers passed a plan which they and the governor pretend gives the public schools a new chance to be competitive. It does nothing of the kind, except stave off their final collapse into bankruptcy for perhaps a few more years.

That’s perfectly fine with people like Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, the main architect of the schools’ betrayal.

Thanks to term limits, he and his fellow co-conspirators will be long gone by the time the schools fail again. Some probably will be working for the lobbying firms that contribute to their campaigns now, which is totally legal in Michigan.

The state Senate earlier passed a bipartisan plan that gave the Detroit Public Schools a real chance to compete.

It provided enough money to wipe out their half billion dollars in debt, much of which was accumulated under a series of state-appointed emergency managers.

Most importantly, it established a Detroit Education Commission, which could determine where any new public schools, conventional or charter could open. This was essential, Mayor Duggan said, to make sure the entire city was responsibly served.

This was unacceptable to the venial and ideological fanatics in the House, with whom the state Senate went along.

They got rid of the education commission. They also insisted Detroit Public Schools be allowed to hire uncertified teachers, and made it easier to fire teachers who strike or refuse to teach in buildings where the heat and plumbing doesn’t work.

Nor did they provide enough money. The governor was forced to admit that, but Judge Steven Rhodes, who is now the schools’ “transition manager,” said he had obtained a commitment from the governor to “identify additional money from within the administration.”

The judge added, “I take the governor at his word.”

What this likely means is that the schools will slowly fail again, in large part because they will be unable to attract any new students.

Without trustworthy public schools, Detroit will never attract stable middle-class families. At best, it will be a place of glittering hipsters and slums.

State Representative Morris Hood stood up in the chamber to call those sabotaging the children “damn cowards” for what they are doing.

He was wrong.

Those who passed these bills couldn't care less.

Cowards know they should be doing the right thing, but are afraid to. Those who passed these bills couldn’t care less.

They aren’t from Detroit.

Governor Snyder knows this package is a total farce, but he has indicated he will sign it, and wants these people reelected in November.

There are probably words for this. But I can’t think of any they’ll let me say.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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