January 10, 2007
Detroit Public Schools has lost more than 50,000 students over the past eight years, almost a third of its population, to charter schools, private schools, and the suburbs. Still, it has closed only 35 of 267 schools, about 7 percent. With education funding in Michigan tied to attendance, something had to give. Last week, the district announced a plan to close 52 of its remaining 232 school buildings, a move that will save about $19 million per year. Opposition to the proposal has been fierce, of course. But Detroit is losing students by the bucketful--12,600 left after a 16-day teacher strike this fall--so shuttering schools is less a choice than an imperative. After all, when grown-up organizations lose customers, they cut back on capacity--or they quickly innovate and improve to regain their clientele. In the meantime, Michigan lawmakers should act fast to ensure that these empty buildings aren't just mothballed; Ohio's approach is exemplary. School districts in the state may now claim charter schools' test scores as their own if they offer to lease those charter schools their facilities (see here). A similar push in the Wolverine State could help Detroit Public Schools get back on its feet while adding some much-needed burnish to its academic performance.
"Detroit may shut up to 52 schools," by Christine MacDonald and Darren Nichols, Detroit News, January 6, 2007