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House expands EAA

LEFT: State Rep. John Olumba, I-Detroit; RIGHT: State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit vote to pass EAA legislation

LEFT: State Rep. John Olumba, I-Detroit; RIGHT: State Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit vote to pass EAA legislation

Two Detroit lawmakers support failing district

By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

LANSING — Only with the votes of two Detroit state representatives was the Michigan House of Representatives able to pass legislation March 20 expanding the statewide experimental district for failing students, the Educational Achievement Authority. The bill returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote.

Fifteen Detroit Public Schools were taken in 2011 to form the district, which was created by an agreement between Gov. Rick Snyder, former Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts and the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents in 2011.

The elected board of Detroit Public Schools has repeatedly voted unanimously to break all ties with the EAA and return to DPS the buildings taken to house the EAA. With the passage of the legislation, the EAA is no longer a creation of an interlocal agreement, but will be codified in law, DPS Board President Lamar Lemmons said. That makes getting the 15 buildings, students and contents back into DPS difficult.

In its first two years of operation, the district also failed to see results in student proficiency. Recent test data reveals the EAA’s failure. It also reveals that not only did the students who were considered to be “failing” not improve, but those students who were already proficient, their scores have declined.

“The 2013 MEAP cohort data shows us, convincingly, most EAA students failed to make even marginal progress toward proficiency,” wrote Tom Pedroni, director of the Detroit Data and Democracy Project and associate professor for curriculum studies at Wayne State University, in an analysis of the data. “The portrait is even grimmer for the small number of students who had entered the EAA already demonstrating proficiency. In math, 66 percent are no longer proficient. In reading, 37 percent are no longer proficient.”

Senator Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, criticized the House for passing a bill that would expand “the deeply flawed (system)” and called the expansion a massive setback for the state’s education system.

“Since its inception, the EAA has been fraught with fraud, child abuse, neglect of special needs children, financial woes, skewed test scores, inexperienced Teach for America graduates replacing seasoned teachers, and a top-heavy administration led by an individual with a deplorable track record elsewhere,” Johnson said in a statement.

“The EAA is an experiment that has been conducted on the children of Detroit for the past two years and it has failed. Yet in the face of alarming evidence, including a decrease in student proficiency on the most recent round of testing, 56 irresponsible state legislators voted in favor of expansion, choosing ideology and special interests over the well-being of Michigan’s children.”

The controversial bill, HB4369, passed by a slim margin, 56-54, with two Detroit lawmakers — John Olumba, (I) and Harvey Santana (D) — providing the Republican majority with the votes they needed.

Both Detroit reps have come under fire by their Detroit colleagues, residents and local community groups.

Olumba, who voted in favor of the legislation last year, defended his position to the Michigan Citizen.

He says the EAA will continue to exist only in Detroit without the expansion to other districts.

“Three things could happen: The EAA will be shown for what it is in the long run and be shut down; or it will improve because people statewide will have responsibility for it; or the EAA continues, but only in Detroit. A ‘no vote’ would mean it would continue only in Detroit, because you won’t have any allies to fight with or to make system any better.”

While many have taken to social media to express their anger and disappointment with Olumba and Santana, he says he had a number of his constituents saying they wanted the expansion.

“In voting for the bill, I was keeping in mind the students who are in the schools right now, because they’re in a situation right now that they’re actually living. I’m not going to cut their funding, I’m not going to label them as illegitimate or label them as failed. I’m going to support them by legitimizing the system. My yes-vote says the entire state should be supporting these children and communities. A no-vote would have relegated those students to isolations and furthermore it would have condemned them once and for all as being failing.”

Santana did not return calls for comment.

Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood, D-Taylor, called the expansion legislation “half-baked.”

“The rushed passage of this … legislation is yet another obvious indication that Republicans in the legislature are more concerned with getting anything passed out of their chamber than they are with passing policies of any caliber,” he said. “The lists of shortcomings of the EAA in its current form are extensive. In fact, if the EAA were any other school district in the state, Gov. Snyder would have forced an emergency manager upon it long ago. Instead, because the EAA is a special pet project of the governor, he has convinced Republicans in the legislature to allow it to expand statewide.”

Ellen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, who has fought to expose the EAA’s damaging practices, calls Gov. Snyder’s experimental district a “deform district.”

Lipton expressed her disappointment and regret about the EAA on the House floor just before the vote. She urged her colleagues to vote no, and shared stories of teachers’, students’ and parents’ negative  experiences in the EAA, including the boy with cerebral palsy, whose individualized education plan wasn’t followed and was  told not to finish the school year because he was going to “flunk” anyway.

“You know, it’s often been said that a society will be measured by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens,” Lipton said.

Johnson says he believes the district is more about lining the pockets of the rich than it is educating Michigan’s children.

“It is clear that Michigan Republicans prefer to cater to their wealthy benefactors in the corporate community than to serve the families they were elected to represent,” Johnson said. “Michigan’s entire education system took one step forward to a massive setback with today’s passage of House Bill 4369.”

Community group Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management (D-REM) issued a statement urging the Senate to reject any legislation to expand the EAA. The coalition also condemned state lawmakers who voted to expand the EAA.

“The EAA by any measure — teacher turn over, falling enrollment, classroom management, academic achievement — is a failure. The Republican-driven push to expand it is a triumph of political dogma over common sense and overwhelming evidence,” said Tom Stephens of D-REM. “The Democrat and the Independent that voted for it don’t even have the bad excuse of partisan politics. In fact, Representatives Harvey Santana and John Olumba both represent Detroit, whose children will continue to be victimized in the governor’s failed, anti-democratic experiment in education. This is a continuation of the takeover of local school districts, despite the GOP rhetoric about ‘local control’ and ‘fiscal responsibility,’ as the EAA is part of the move to usurp elected school boards and continues to drive up deficits.”

The EAA legislation reduces the amount of time a school is at the bottom five percent of academic performance from the current three years to two years. It gives intermediate school districts the ability to take over a failing school within six months of it being at the bottom fifth percentile. And it caps the maximum number of schools at 50 — there are over 130 “low-performing” schools statewide. The legislation would also give the EAA the same power as local school districts to borrow money for short-term cash flow.

Under HB4369, no schools could be referred to the State School Reform/Redesign Office before Jan. 1, 2015, and could not be placed under the control of another agency before June 30, 2015.

In February, Michigan Department of Education Superintendent Mike Flanagan announced the EAA would no longer have an exclusive contract with the state to reform “failing” schools. Flanagan ended a 15-year contract that gave the EAA exclusive authority to run “failing” schools placed in the district.


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