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Private foundation raises $60 million to help EAA

From The Detroit News

By Chad Livengood

May 30, 2013

Mackinac Island — Gov. Rick Snyder and leaders of a private foundation said Thursday $59.7 million has been raised to help the Education Achievement Authority’s takeover of persistently failing schools, create a new college scholarship for Detroit students and fund other initiatives in the city.

Snyder announced the new fundraising total here at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual policy conference, where supporters of the EAA were praising the school reform district’s efforts to turn around 15 chronically failing Detroit schools.

“This is a big deal folks, changing the lives of those kids,” Snyder said. “(The EAA) is at the forefront of education innovation.”

The announcement comes as the Snyder administration is struggling to get the Legislature to codify the EAA in state law and make it a freestanding school district with a process for taking over schools on the state’s list of 140 persistently failing schools.

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

Snyder’s announcement also comes less than a week after 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 five-year merit pay program.

The Michigan Education Achievement Foundation, a charity Snyder’s office set up to raise private money for the EAA, has a goal of raising $100 million, foundation Chairman Steve Hamp said.

“Forty million is still a big number,” said Hamp, former president of The Henry Ford and a former Ford Motor Co. executive.

While most of the money comes from foundations and private donors, $10 million of the sum includes money 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 EAA capital improvement funds.

Detroit native and philanthropist Eli Broad’s foundation has pledged $10 million to the EAA, Snyder said Thursday. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation has given a $10 million challenge grant that requires the MEEF 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, chair of the EAA board, said the fundraising effort will underwrite a new two-year scholarship program for any graduate of a public school in Detroit to attend one of five community colleges in southeast Michigan.

Approximately $5 million is being set aside from the $100 million fundraising goal to fund the Detroit Scholarship Program for three years, Hamp said.

Since being formed in 2011, the MEEF has raised approximately $23 million in cash donations, with the remainder being pledged over the next five years, Hamp said.

Hamp said $78 million of the $100 million goal has been earmarked for the EAA and about $14 million was transferred to the EAA this school year to help with startup costs.

The remaining $17 million will go toward funding the Michigan Future Schools’ development of new high schools in Detroit for charter schools and Detroit Public Schools and hiring Teach for America teachers to work in city schools, Goss said.

Some of those Teach for America teachers will work in EAA schools, said Dan Varner, CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit.

Not an experiment

Because of a shortfall in federal funds, the EAA has struggled with cash-flow issues and has relied on $12 million in loans and $2 million advancement of its state aid. The $12 million in loans were facilitated through Detroit Public Schools, although the cash-strapped school district made money through process fees, records show.

Despite the financial struggles, EAA boosters point to the authority’s internal test scores that show students are learning more this year than they did when DPS ran the schools through a different learning style, longer school day and academic year.

“This is not an experiment, this works,” Hamp said.

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,” Goss said.

clivengood@detroitnews.com
(517) 371-3660
Twitter.com/ChadLivengood