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New education budget threatens dozens of low-performing Detroit schools with closure — again

Gov. Rick Snyder signs his final education budget, which once again raises the threat of closure for the state's lowest performing schools.
Gov. Rick Snyder signs his final education budget, which once again raises the threat of closure for the state's lowest performing schools.
Office of Gov. Rick Snyder

Dozens of struggling Detroit schools could face closure once again after Gov. Rick Snyder signed an education budget on Thursday that seeks to stiffen consequences for low-scoring schools.

The budget requires the state’s lowest-performing schools to change their “partnership agreements” with the state, amending the contracts to include the possibility of closure if their test scores don’t meet agreed-upon targets.

In signing the budget, Snyder highlighted an increase of $120 to $240 in spending per student in K-12 schools.

The budget does not reduce spending on “shared time” programs, as Snyder hoped. Funding for the programs, which allow private school students to take free classes from public school teachers, increased sharply in recent years, but will remain flat in 2018.

It is the latest salvo in the debate over the future of Michigan’s lowest performing schools, Snyder last year initially pursued an effort to close 38 Michigan schools whose test scores had been among the bottom five percent statewide for three years in a row, but his plan was met with strong public opposition and was eventually shelved.

Former State Superintendent Brian Whiston sought a middle road in the form of “partnership agreements” with the state, which allowed the schools — including 24 in Detroit — to stay open while working toward improvement targets. Whiston died in May.

The Legislature raised the stakes this month when it put language in state education budget requiring partnership schools that don’t meet their targets to be closed or “reconstituted,” but Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the state Budget office, said the future of those schools will likely be decided by the Michigan Department of Education, not by the Legislature.

Closing schools “may be the Legislature’s intent, but in the end this would all have to be Department of Education policy,” he said.

Twenty-four Detroit schools were among the first to enter state partnerships one year ago. They are nearing the end of the three-year agreements, and would be the first to face closure if their scores don’t improve. In all, more than 50 schools have been singled out for low test scores in Detroit’s main district alone. Detroit accounts for roughly half of the statewide list of more than 120 schools.

After the state backed off plans to shutter dozens of schools, many of them in Detroit, Republican legislators worried that the state lacked adequate accountability measures.

“Without those guideposts, those guide rails, it’s easy for schools to fall back and not be as concerned about the performance that the students deserve and the state deserves,” House education committee chair Tim Kelly, the sponsor of this year’s budget, said in a 2017 interview.

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