Report: DPS on brink of collapse as state fails to manage crisis

Abandoned Brightmoor school
Abandoned Detroit school. Photo by Steve Neavling.

By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker

Detroit Public Schools is on the brink of collapse after local and state officials have failed for decades to properly manage the district’s financial problems.

In a newly released report entitled, “A School District in Crisis,” Detroit-based Loveland Technologies concluded that the district may not survive another year as it continues to hemorrhage thousands of students annually.

The state has fueled the decline, which began in the 1960s, by reducing funding, closing schools and allowing nearly 100 charter schools to open.

Over the past 15 years, DPS closed nearly 200 schools “as enrollment fell from 162,693 students to 47,959, a decline of 71%,” according to the report.

“The resulting morass has left DPS trapped in a cycle of student loss and school closure that, if left unchecked, will result in bankruptcy in the next few months, and the likely dissolution of the school district in a matter of years,” according to the report, which involved one-and-a-half years of research.

The district’s decline can be traced back to the 1960s, when the population began to plummet and other school alternatives left DPS in a battle to fund public education.

“Just 47,000 students attend public schools in Detroit today, down from nearly 300,000 in 1966,” the report states, noting that more students now attend charter schools.

The report questions the effectiveness of state control of the district, which began in 2009 with the appointment of an emergency manager.
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“The cumulative impact of them has been questionable at best,” the report states. “Despite modest improvements in test scores, enrollment has plummeted and schools have closed while the district’s financial situation has only worsened. Under emergency financial managers, the district has run at a budget deficit that now tops $300 million.”

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State lawmakers are considering several proposals to provide emergency funding to DPS, but Republicans continue to push for more charter schools.

“I will also support an expansion of choice and public charter schools to absorb the students of the former DPS,” Rep. Tim Kelly, a Republican from Saginaw Township, wrote in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday. “Quickly building the capacity to receive the remaining 47,000 students will be a challenge, so the sooner we can legislate something the better.”

Here are other key findings by Loveland Technologies:

  • DPS has 93 active schools today, compared to more than 380 in 1975.
  • An average of seven charter schools have opened each year since the state authorized the opening of charter schools in the mid-1990s.
  • More than 25,000 Detroit students attended schools outside of Detroit in 2015.
  • The closure of schools didn’t save the district as much money as expected and even resulted in “one-time closing costs and increased transportation costs,” leading to a further decline in students.
  • Some students dropped out instead of attending rival schools after closures, sometimes for fear of violence.
  • More than 80 vacant schools dot Detroit’s neighborhoods.
  • Closed schools were often destroyed by scrappers who stole valuable copper because the district didn’t adequately protect the buildings.

To read the full report, click here.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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