Detroit’s public school system is in dire shape. The district boasts some of the highest dropout rates in the state, and its school board has a history of corruption and fiscal irresponsibility. On top of that, Detroit has just become the nation’s poorest large city, with 55.3 percent of its residents living below 200 percent of the poverty line. Enter Dave Bing – Detroit businessman and former Detroit Pistons standout. Bing has offered to support the construction of 15 charter technical high schools in the city, creating a new district known as the New Schools of Detroit.
Bing’s proposal comes on the heels of a similar project that Plymouth philanthropist Robert Thompson proposed in 2003, which was withdrawn largely due to pressure from critics within the Detroit Public Schools employee unions. The Detroit Federation of Teachers then marched on the state Capitol to protest the plan and says it will do so again with this new proposal. The president of the DFT, Jenna Garrison, has also said that the union will pursue the matter through the courts if necessary. Yet, with Bing as the new face of the project, it is gaining public support, and permission to proceed is expected sometime between November and December.
This page has a precedent of supporting public schools, and has shied away from the idea of charter schools on the grounds that they will draw students, and therefore funding, away from the public schools in their area. The Daily has also feared that these schools will have religious undertones, or that they are built with profits, not students, in mind. However, we find ourselves is compelled to support Bing’s plan – charter schools and all. The fact is, something has to be done now for the students in Detroit who are not getting the opportunities that they deserve. While this program isn’t the solution to Detroit’s educational crisis, rejecting this plan would only hurt the students of a floundering city.
In understanding this plan, and why this paper supports it, it is important to remember who Dave Bing is. He is a Detroit entrepreneur who, in 1980, formed the hugely successful Bing Group, which is projected to reach sales of $1 billion by 2010. Of the 10 companies in his group, six are headquartered within Detroit limits; one company, which supplies auto parts, employs 1,400 Detroiters. Beyond creating job opportunities, he has started many other projects to help rebuild the city, including middle-income housing projects, with the goal of keeping money within the city limits. Furthermore, Bing’s schools would be nonprofit and completely nonreligious.
This plan fits squarely within Bing’s long-term strategy of revitalizing Detroit neighborhoods by providing good jobs and good housing. A local businessman with hundreds of millions of dollars vested in Detroit, Bing feels that the city cannot afford to wait on a system that has recently posted a $200 million deficit and closed 40 schools to right itself.
While the ideal solution to Detroit’s problems would be for the state, city and school board to fix the public schools, that is not a realistic short-term goal, and turning down this project will not make that happen. What the city needs now is real change, and the Detroit public school system is not doing its job in facilitating that. While this paper unequivocally supports public schools and will continue its push for drastic reform of the Detroit Public Schools, opposing this project would be bad for students and bad for the city. It may not be a permanent solution, but Detroit’s citizens cannot be kept hanging indefinitely while the school board sorts out its problems.