Public education in Detroit, where 57 percent of children live below the poverty line, is a mess. Detroit Public Schools, which ranked last out of 21 large districts on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress tests, is almost bankrupt, shrinking so fast it has about a third of the students it had a decade ago.
Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder released his much-anticipated plan to straighten out the mess. Most of the press reports focused on the financial issues: The proposal would require state taxpayers to subsidize the district to the tune of $53 million to $72 million per year, so its schools could continue to function while also paying down $483 million in operating debt.
But the most important aspect of the proposal got little attention. The governor wants to set up a Detroit Education Commission that would have the power to measure school performance, create a common enrollment system for all public schools, close mediocre schools (charter and traditional) and replace them with new schools (charter and traditional). This would be a huge step forward: For the first time, Detroit would have a citywide portfolio manager with the power to steer both the traditional and charter sectors toward higher performance.
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