It’s no secret Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have been in dire straits for years. Obama’s new Education Secretary caught on pretty quick. Sec. Arne Duncan said DPS will be a “huge focus” of his tenure, indicating there’s a moral obligation to Detroit’s kids. In reporting Duncan’s remarks, the Detroit News said
The Detroit schools are beset by daunting problems: troubles with funding, a poverty rate among the highest in the state and students who perform poorly. Detroit Public Schools’ students have typically posted some of the worst scores in the state while its high schools are graduating just over half its students.
Certainly Detroit’s tax base is not what it once was and there’s no doubt districts like West Bloomfield spend more per student. It doesn’t help when folks like Councilwoman JoAnne Watson skimped on her property taxes. But, the state gives DPS the same per student amount as every other district in Michigan; DPS starts with a level playing field. On top of that, the state gave DPS a $70 million loan on top of two previous $19 million advances in July and August of 2008. On top of that, DPS got $355 million from the stimulus bill.
Funding doesn’t seem to be the fundamental problem. Bob2 (Robert Bobb), the emergency financial manager appointed to staunch DPS’ bleeding fiscal abscesses, has found ineptness and corruption contributing to the financial morass. Two have been indicted, two more are suspect, and I’m sure there will be more to follow. Besides blatant corruption, there are cases like the contract to secure and clean out closed schools. The contactor, with ties to school board members, never performed the work.
Many folks like to label urban areas as welfare cheat havens. While there are certainly those types of people, I have long believed the fundamental issue with urban dysfunction has to do with the disparity of education. If we dont’ teach Johnny how to read, he won’t be able to get and hold a job. Many want to blame the city, the school system. No doubt both have a role. But dropout rates have a basis in violence. That’s actually not as surprising as it should be. On an individual level, why would I want to go to school if I was afraid I’d get mugged or killed? It’s not a big leap, therefore, to violence being a disincentive to getting an education. How many bright, talented young people has society squandered because they live in an urban school district?
Looks to me like Bob2 is making great headway in addressing the financial woes of Detroit’s schools. Mayor Bing needs to focus on addressing the safety issue. Without both, DPS will be no better off.