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Tom Ultican posted this research about the damage wrought by the Destroy Public Education movement on Michigan and Detroit last March. I missed it. It is still painfully current.
What is the DeVos agenda? It is an aggressive version of Christian evangelism that opposes public schools.
The destroy public education (DPE) movement’s most egregious outcome may be in Detroit and it is being driven by a virulent Christian ideology.
In 2001, Dick and Betsy DeVos answered questions for the Gathering. Dick DeVos opined that church has retreated from its central role in communities and has been replaced by the public school. He said it is our hope “churches will get more and more active and engaged in education.” Betsy noted “half of our giving is towards education.”
Jay Michaelson writing for the Daily Beast described the Gathering:
“The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest.”
“The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity.”
In the Gathering interview, Betsy talks about how she and Dick both come from business oriented families. From their experience, they understand how competition and choice are key drivers to improve any enterprise. She says public education needs choice and competition instead of forcing people into government run schools.
She was also asked how she felt about home schooling? She replied, “we like home schools a lot,” and humorously shared, “not sure our daughters do, they were homeschooled for three years.” Then Dick added how impressed he was with Bill Bennet’s new project, K-12. He said it wasn’t a Christian oriented on-line curriculum but it was a complete education program that could help homeschoolers.
By the 1990’s Dick and Betsy DeVos were successfully influencing Michigan education policies and using private giving to drive their agenda. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVos’s philanthropy for Mother Jones.
“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”
As the new century opened, the DeVos agenda was being ever more adopted in Lancing. If improving the education of children in Michigan was the goal, then the DeVos education agenda has proved to be a clear failure. On the other hand, if destroying public education to accommodate privatized Christian schools was the goal, they are still on track.
Betsy and Dick DeVos got a referendum on the ballot in Michigan in 2000, aiming to revise the state constitution to allow for vouchers, so students could use public funds to attend religious schools. Their constitutional amendment was overwhelmingly rejected by the voters. So, the DeVoses turned to charter schools as their means to promote choice.
From 2000 to 2015, Michigan’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress fell from 14th in the nation to 43rd.
Ultican describes what happened to Detroit. First, the state wiped out the elected board and established mayoral control. Then the state restored an elected board. Meanwhile the district’s debt kept rising as its enrollment was plummeting. Detroit was flooded with charter schools, most of which operated for profit. The district was left with “stranded costs” as students transferred from public to charter schools.
He writes: The extra-costs associated with privatizing DPS were all born by the public schools.
As charters continued to open and enrollment continued to fall, the state stepped in again:
Not acknowledging their own role in creating the financial crisis in Detroit, the state government again pushed the elected school board aside in 2009. Education policy was theoretically left under the purview of the school board but financial management would be the responsibility of a governor appointed emergency manager. This time it was a Democratic Governor, Jenifer Granholm who selected a graduate of the unaccredited Broad superintendents’ academy class of 2005, Robert Bobb, to be the manager.
Not only did Granholm select a Broad academy graduate, but Eli Broad paid part of his $280,000 salary. Sharon Higgins, who studies the Broad academy, reports that a civil rights group and a coalition of teachers who oppose charter schools questioned “whether Bobb was in conflict of interest for accepting $89,000 of his salary from a foundation that supports private and charter schools.”
Bobb made significant cuts to DPS. He closed many schools and eliminated 25% of the districts employees. He also sold several school buildings. The Detroit News reported in March 2010, “Instead of a $17 million surplus Bobb projected for this fiscal year, spending has increased so much Bobb is projecting a $98 million deficit for the budget year that ends June 30.”
Bobb blamed unforeseeable costs related to declining enrollment. Curt Guyette at the Metro-Times relates that many people blamed spending on high priced consultants and contracts. Guyette provided this example:
“Of particular note was Barbara Byrd-Bennett, hired by Bobb on a nine-month contract to be the district’s chief academic and accountability auditor. She received a salary of nearly $18,000 a month plus an armed personal driver. In addition, Byrd, a former chief executive officer of Cleveland’s public schools system, ‘brought with her at least six consultants who are collectively being paid more than $700,000 for about nine months of work,’ according to a 2009 Detroit Free Press article.”
In 2011, Republican Governor Rich Snyder ushered through two laws that had a negative effect on DPS. The first law, Public Act 4, gave the emergency manager total control and removed all powers from the elected school board. The second law, Public Act 436, created a state school district called the Education Achievement Authority (EAA) which took effect in 2013.
The EAA’s first task was to take over 15 of Detroit’s lowest performing schools. This immediately removed another 11,000 students from DPS and further stressed its finances.
Counting Robert Bobb there were five emergency managers at DPS between 2009 and 2016. Mercedes Schneider reports that “The most recent Detroit Public Schools emergency manager, Darnell Earley, is chiefly responsible for water contamination in Flint, Michigan.”
By 2016, the schools of DPS were in such a disgraceful condition that the New York Times called them “crumbling” and “destitute.” The Times’ article included this quote: ‘“We have rodents out in the middle of the day,’ said Ms. Aaron, a teacher of 18 years. ‘Like they’re coming to class.”’
July 1, 2017 the EAA returned the fifteen schools to DPS and the Michigan legislature finally acted to mitigate the debt crisis created in Holland and Lancing not Detroit. Also on July 1, 2017 Nikolai Vitti the new superintendent of DPS took on the challenge or rehabilitating the public schools of Detroit.
Robert Bobb was handsomely paid. So was John Covington. So was Barbara Byrd-Bennett (who is now in prison, after being found guilty of taking kickbacks while CEO of the Chicago public schools). The leaders made lots of money.
The charters were a disaster. The Educational Achievement Authority was an even bigger disaster, consuming high administrative costs and producing nothing for the children of Detroit.
Ultican identifies one of the villains in this chain of events that harmed the children and the public schools of Detroit: the Skillman Foundation of Detroit. With “the best of intentions,” this local foundation has supported every raid on the city, its children, and its public schools. It continues to support the Destroy Public Education Movement despite its repeated disasters and its failed experiments on children.