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Donors boost EAA $59.7M

From The Detroit News

By Jennifer Chambers and Chad Livengood

May 31, 2013

Mackinac Island — Gov. Rick Snyder and national school reformer Michelle Rhee urged policymakers and financial donors Thursday to help improve Michigan’s education system.

The Republican governor and leaders of a private foundation announced Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s policy conference that $59.7 million has been raised to help the Education Achievement Authority’s takeover of persistently failing schools and other initiatives. They include creating a college scholarship for Detroit students.

“This is a big deal, folks, changing the lives of those kids,” Snyder said at the conference, where supporters praised the school reform district’s efforts to turn around 15 chronically failing Detroit schools.

“(The EAA) is at the forefront of education innovation,” he said.

Before the announcement, school groups critical of the EAA launched a website called InsideTheEAA.com, making public records of the district obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by Democratic lawmakers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and education researchers.

The Snyder administration is struggling to get the Legislature to codify the EAA in state law and make it a free-standing school district with a process for taking over schools on the state’s list of 140 persistently failing schools. Last week, The Detroit News reported on the EAA’s early funding problems, as well as inflated claims the authority made to win a $35.4 million federal grant for a teacher merit-pay program.

The Michigan Education Achievement Foundation — a charity Snyder’s office set up to raise private funds for the EAA and other efforts — has set $100 million as its goal, said Steve Hamp, the foundation chairman.

While most of the money comes from foundations and private donors, $10 million comes from funds the Legislature appropriated last summer to assist the EAA in bringing 15 Detroit schools up to code before the authority took them over in September. Lawmakers used money from a settlement with banks over mortgage foreclosure practices to provide the EAA with capital improvement funds.

Detroit native and philanthropist Eli Broad’s foundation has pledged $10 million, Snyder said Thursday. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation has given a $10 million challenge grant that requires the MEAF to raise matching funds.

“So those of you who haven’t given and were about to come up, bring your checkbook,” Snyder said.

Carol Goss, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation in Detroit, said the EAA must be given a chance to turn around failing schools and “correct any missteps that are made.”

“This presents the best opportunity to change education outcomes for all of our children,” said Goss, who also chairs the EAA board.

Rhee, a former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor and a Democrat who embraces school choice and vouchers, praised Michigan’s educational reform efforts as a possible model for the nation.

“Michigan … has been one of the most aggressive states on education reform, with the governor and the Legislature leading the way with the EAA, taking over low-performing schools and work on teacher quality,” she said. “These are the innovations and initiatives that are going to lead the country. I’m actually very encouraged.”

Rhee, who runs the Students First reform group in Sacramento, Calif., also backed a merit-pay bill that is proceeding through the Michigan Legislature.

“Teachers matter. They matter tremendously. We need to think of what we do to make sure there is a highly effective teacher in front of every classroom every day,” said Rhee, a former teacher. “Michigan has begun to make big strides in this area … with the merit-pay bill. Those are the kinds of policies we need to put in place to make sure teachers are valued in society in the right way.”

Rhee backed Snyder by encouraging Michigan’s GOP-dominated Legislature not to stall the implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards.

“I believe public education is supposed to be the great equalizer in our country … so every single kid can have an equal shot in life,” Rhee said. “That is not the reality for the vast majority of kids living in inner cities. If you live in Bloomfield Hills and Detroit, you are getting two wildly different educational experiences. That’s an injustice.”

jchambers@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2269