Education isn’t child’s play. It’s not a matter that can or should be taken lightly. Apparently, Detroit hasn’t gotten that message. In a desperate attempt to reduce the deficit, the city is considering a plan that would close down 70 of its public schools. If the plan is implemented, high school class sizes will greatly increase. This is a terrible proposal that won’t achieve the city’s goal of ameliorating its dire fiscal situation. The city of Detroit and the state Legislature need to look for ways to eliminate the deficit that won’t mortgage the city’s future and leave children behind.

According to a Feb. 22 article in the Wall Street Journal, Detroit Public Schools financial manager Robert Bobb submitted a plan to the state Legislature that would allow DPS to close half its schools and increase the average high school class size to 60 students over the course of four years. The plan is a final effort to close the district’s $327 million budget deficit and was approved by the Legislature on Feb. 8. If the plan is implemented, the number of schools in the district will fall from 142 to 72, and enrollment could decrease by about 15,000 students.

Detroit is being set up to fail. In a city where educational achievement and literacy are already low, this severe budget cut could be a kiss of death. The quality of education will be compromised — in classrooms brimming with students, teachers won’t be able to give each student the individual attention he or she needs. At a time when the city should be investing in its youth to prepare them for higher education and an evolving and increasingly competitive global economy, students can’t bear the brunt of draconian austerity measures.

It’s also troubling that the plan presumes a mass exodus of about 15,000 students. As if the brain drain in Detroit — and in Michigan as a whole — wasn’t bad enough. DPS shutting down so many schools provides another incentive for people to leave the city. In the end, Detroit’s enormous budget cuts are going to diminish its tax revenue and educated human capital. Ironically, so-called fiscal responsibility will empty the city’s pockets.

But Detroit shouldn’t shoulder all of the blame for these measures. The state Legislature — which is, using some twisted logic, concurrently implementing higher education standards — approved the plan. If education is really a priority for Michigan, it’s time for the Legislature to take a firm stand against the “emergency” plan and consider some alternatives that will benefit the state as a whole.

President Barack Obama made education a theme in his State of the Union address, even explicitly calling for more teachers and a greater emphasis on learning. Michigan would do well to listen to him — Bobb’s plan shouldn’t even be a last resort. A city that can raise more than $50,000 for a Robocop statue should find a way to raise funds for its schools. The Legislature literally can’t afford to have a myopic vision for the state’s future.

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