Ellen Cogen Lipton Shares EAA Concerns, Education Alternatives (video)
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 21, 2013)
As Democratic Vice Chair of the Education Committee of the Michigan House of Representatives, Ellen Cogen Lipton saw first-hand the way The Michigan Education Achievement Authority has taken shape. Beyond that, she has looked into the results of having the EAA taking over struggling schools, including questionable spending, decreased school enrollment, increased crime and a track record of causing more setbacks than advancements. With legislation pending in the Senate to codify the EAA, Lipton has taken on the task of coming up alternatives to state takeover and sharing those alternatives with people all across the state.
Her outreach included Ferndale, where she spoke at the Nov. 18 Board of Education meeting to present The “School Reform Task Force 2013 Michigan House Democrats Report.” The report, which was released in September, is the result of conversations that happened across the state with experts in education. Intended to offer an alternative to a state-run school district, the report outlines three key suggestions. The first is to create community action plans to steer schools back on track. Rather than simply taking over, the plans would be a short-term partnership between the state and the schools so they could work together to solve problems.
The second is to figure out how much it costs to educate a child in Michigan. A study, which would need to be approved by the legislature, would provide a solid frame of reference for having discussions on funding.
And the third would be leveling the playing field between public schools and charter schools. Proposed rules would require disclosure of taxpayer dollars actually spent on classroom instruction, and would require bodies that authorize charter schools to keep their schools performing at a minimal level of achievement before allowing them to authorize more. Another suggestion is requiring that all schools – public, charter and virtual – be required to hold public meetings.
“If a charter is in fact providing substandard education, then the state should have the authority to close down that charter. Right now that isn’t the case,” Cogen Lipton said. “The only entity that can close down a charter is the authorizer, and right now under Michigan law, the authorizer is entitled to a 3% management fee off the top. So the financial incentive is not there for them to close down a charter. It just doesn’t happen.”
She explained that in communities where charter schools open there is “the effect of destabilizing the public schools they’re surrounding.” She said this was evident in Detroit and in Pontiac.
The suggestions are meant as an alternative to the EAA. Currently there are 15 schools under the EAA’s control, located in Detroit. The goal is to expand the EAA statewide by next school year. Legislation has already passed the House to make it possible, and it is currently in the Senate. The EAA is run by a governor-appointed Chancellor who answers to a governor-appointed board. The public has no say in EAA decisions.
The EAA has not impressed Cogen Lipton, to say the least. “What we’ve found is that most of the time when the state comes in and takes over a school district, not only does the district not improve, but it actually gets worse. And the reason why, we’ve found, is that the fabric of the community is often times ripped apart.”
In addition to the impact on communities and students, the lack of transparency has Lipton worried. Last year she battled for public records to be released. “One of the things we found is an enormous amount of money being paid to private vendors to provide, for example, special education services that are not being provided. So there’s a lot of money that is being spent that doesn’t seem to be making it to the classroom,” she said.
“Rather than requiring a vendor to come before an open meeting and justify what they do to local school boards, it becomes very easy now to basically go through one point of entry. All they have to do is convince the Chancellor. And for example, the software package that is being used in the EAA, the Chancellor himself is a primary investor in that very software package.”
Regardless of EAA status, many school districts struggle with a lack of funding. “Schools have been consistently defunded,” Cogen Lipton said. “The per pupil foundational allowance that we’re at, adjusted for inflation, is the lowest it’s been since the beginning of Proposal A . This particular administration has cut almost $2 billion from the School Aid Fund.”
“We are now near the bottom in terms of the amount of our budget that we place into the public schools,” she said.
The official EAA website it at http://www.michigan.gov/eaa/.
Lipton and others who oppose the EAA have created a website called “Inside the EAA,” which can be found at http://insidetheeaa.com/.