Mich. to move more bad schools to state district

The state school superintendent said Tuesday he will direct more of Michigan's worst public schools into a state improvement district as early as January, while critics questioned whether the move is legal without the Legislature's blessing.
AP Wire
Dec 11, 2013

Mike Flanagan said "many more" than 10 schools should join 15 Detroit schools in the Education Achievement Authority. Though he previously said fewer than 10 would be added to the reform district, he said state officials through a vetting process discovered more need to be placed there.

Flanagan did not indicate how many more and which schools among Michigan's lowest-performing 5 percent for three straight years could be taken over by the state.

"We want to be certain which schools those should be and whether they are making the satisfactory progress that the law requires of them," he said in a written statement.

The announcement came as senators consider contentious legislation to codify the EAA in law and expand it beyond Detroit. The bill passed the Republican-led House in March but has stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate despite backing from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who wants it approved before legislators adjourn for the year Thursday.

The state in 2011 signed a deal transferring its school reform/redesign district — created under a law signed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm to win federal Race to the Top grants — to the Snyder-backed EAA, which had been formed two months earlier through an agreement between Detroit schools' emergency manager and Eastern Michigan University.

While Flanagan says the transfer contract allows all schools in the new district to be run by the EAA, Democratic Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton of Huntington Woods said state law says nothing about the EAA, which did not exist when Granholm and legislators created the reform office.

"I guarantee that the first school district that gets put in, there's a lawsuit," she said.

Lipton said Snyder is pushing so hard for the legislation codifying the EAA in law so legal complications go away.

Flanagan's spokesman said Michigan's attorney general determined the transfer deal is legal, but Flanagan prefers that the law be changed to allow failing schools to be placed with an operating entity like the EAA or intermediate school districts.

"The state Legislature has been working for some time on legislation to empower the EAA in state law," Flanagan said. "We look forward to them getting this done, to provide more clarity on the EAA — for example, how schools would return to their traditional districts."

Democrats say the EAA is an experimental and unproven educational model that has been in place for just one full academic year and is losing students. Lipton said if the EAA's proponents have really figured out the "magic fairy dust" to fix troubled urban schools, legislators would be more open to its expansion.

"But on every measure that we've looked at, they're doing lousy," she said, citing concerns about student safety, special education programs and EAA schools getting significant private financial support in addition to state per-pupil funding. "Why would you want to expand something that is so profoundly failing on all fronts?"

The EAA counters that more than half of students in the 12 schools it directly runs achieved 1 1/2 year's growth in math and reading last year.

Snyder last week acknowledged the drop in EAA enrollment but said "there's a lot of great things going on in (the) EAA. I'm very confident about the good work being done in the schools. I still encourage people to go visit the schools because ... you'll be impressed with how they're operating and how those kids are really growing and learning."

Amber McCann, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, said senators are exploring this week how an expanded EAA could impact schools in their own district.

"They want to define that better," she said.

House Bill 4369: http://1.usa.gov/16C5Ny3

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