Friday, January 28, 2005

Detroit School Implosion

In a nearly incomprehensible collapse of the Detroit School system, the Detroit Public Schools administration is projecting a loss of 40,000 students over the next three years. That's in addition to the 30,000 that have been lost since 1998. The DPS enrollment stands at 140,000 this year.

The DPS 2005 budget has nearly a $200 million shortfall (that's more than the entire budget of the Grand Rapids Public Schools). DPS predicts that it will have to close 110 schools over the next couple of years.

This is an unprecedented collapse of a school system. As we watch the death-throes of DPS, how far behind is Grand Rapids Public Schools?

Superintendent Bert Bleke said he would not rule out bankruptcy when he unveils a plan to address budget problems for GRPS in March. This is despite the fact that GRPS was successful in raising taxes to pay for $160 million in buildings in 2004 and passing a county-wide tax increase, bringing in millions more for GRPS.

What's wrong with these school systems? They are finally feeling the heat of educational competition. Detroit has been a heavy focus of charter school growth over the last decade, with acceleration in the last few years. Grand Rapids has a few schools, but it seems to have leveled off. Regardless, school districts have had to adjust their delivery, operations, and structure to counter the effect of charters.

But the drain from urban school districts seems to continue. GRPS lost another 800 students this year, on top of the loss of hundreds of students a year for the last several years.

Is enrollment a problem, or a symptom of the problem? Charter schools can't force anyone to enroll (as traditional public schools can). They open their doors and parents come running. Is the problem the existence of charter schools, as the education establishment wants you to believe, or is the problem the utter failure of public school systems? We believe it is the latter.

The education world is now a marketplace, and the public school systems must deal with that fact. We're of the opinion that they are incapable of dealing with the situation because of the entrenched bureaucracy and the absolute unwillingness to embrace any change on the part of the teachers' union.

DPS is almost dead. Is GRPS next? Will anyone mourn the death?

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