The following article was sent to me by education researchers Russ Bellant and M. Denise Baldwin. Baldwin is a former teacher in Saginaw. Recently, I was on an NPR program hosted by Warren Olney with three other people, one of whom spoke on behalf of Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children. He insisted that not a single public school in Detroit had ever been closed. This article says that the number of public schools closed in Detroit over the past 20 years is nearly 200, with more school closings ahead, all in African American communities. Meanwhile the Detroit Free Press published an article showing that the closure of neighborhood schools–DeVos’s goal–means less choice for black residents, who no longer have a school they can walk to or transportation to schools of “choice.”

DeVos leads push for school closings, only African American schools targeted

By Russ Bellant and M. Denise Baldwin

When Michigan Governor Rick Snyder concluded that a new law that restructured Detroit Public Schools prohibited school closures until 2019, the DeVos network reacted immediately, demanding closures of Detroit schools. They enlisted elected officials who had received campaign contributions from the DeVos apparatus. Now the Governor has backed down, despite considerable legal muscle that agreed with his interpretation.

In a shocking move, the Governor has proposed the closing of 38 schools across the state, including 24 Detroit public schools (and one Detroit charter). But an examination of the list shows a disturbing pattern: all of them serve primarily African American populations.

The DeVos entity that speaks to education issues in the state, Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), quickly demanded that all 38 be shut down. They ignore the reality that in one part of Detroit, it would close all the area high schools and abandon K-8 education in a large area of the City. More fundamentally, they ignore the fact that they are accelerating separate and unequal education in Michigan.

GLEP, which was set up and has been primarily funded by Dick and Betsy DeVos, has been aggressive in advocating the shutting down of public schools and replacing them with charters. The charters, in turn, have been seen as a base to get electoral support for vouchers, according to plans formulated in the mid-1990s. An amendment to the Michigan Constitution to permit vouchers was put on the ballot by the DeVos family in 2000, but it was soundly defeated.

Undeterred, the DeVos machine continues their plan to charterize Michigan public schools with no caps or accountability mandated. The charters, some placed by DeVos allies, are set up primarily in communities of color. Eighty percent are for-profit corporations, according to a Western Michigan University study. They average a thousand dollars profit off each student, out of a state foundation of just over $7,000 per student.

White school districts have been more resistant to state intervention when school performance is an issue, and it gets more attention. But when Black schools are targeted, there is less statewide concern, so they are seen as a path of least resistance for charterizers.

DeVos has directly used her political muscle to take a highly rated Detroit aeronautics high school and have a state subsidy for that school transferred to a DeVos-created charter high school in west Michigan. They also took the Detroit curriculum as their own. The West Michigan Aviation Academy says that the school was an inspiration of Betsy DeVos.

It remains to be seen how much the Michigan public will tolerate the dismantling of their districts. One school that is in an otherwise majority white district plans a determined resistance to the state closing plan. The East Detroit Public Schools, in a county that voted for Trump, has on its website a statement from its Superintendent that “We have no intention of allowing the SRO (from the Governor’s office-RB) to dictate the future of our students.” A school board member added that “East Detroit Public Schools will not accept the closure of any of the District’s schools by the state and will not allow the SRO to intervene at this point in our plans. School closures hurt children.”

The state is also facing lawsuits over its destruction of public schools and educational quality. They have directly controlled the Detroit schools for the last eight years and 15 of the last 18 years. Their citation of academic shortcomings they created as justification of the closings is really an indictment of state control, a subject they avoid.

The state has also dismantled four school districts across the state. All were African-American communities. Currently three of the proposed schools for closure in Saginaw and in Bridgeport-Spaulding Public Schools serve students who were displaced when their home district, Buena Vista, was dissolved. The proposed closings would subject hundreds of students to two major school dislocations.

Detroit is the model of proving that mass closures only put districts in a downward spiral. In the last 13 years 172 district schools (61%) have been closed, mostly by the state, in response to state-created debt and academic performance. Another 15 were taken and turned into the Governor’s personal school district. Closings have lead to abusive charterization and neighborhood abandonment. If closures were the solution, Detroit would be the Harvard of K-12 education.

There is a likely legal challenge to the DeVos-led dismantling of public education based on impact disparities on African American communities. DeVos has shown no reluctance to exploit this vulnerability in our social fabric as she seeks a world of profit-driven charters and vouchers that undermine over a half-century of educational progress.