Print Friendly and PDF

Tonya Allen on Poverty, Career Pathways and the Detroit Education Commission

Tonya Allen, president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation stopped by the Blogger Zone in the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Media Row during the Mackinac Policy Conference for a Q&A with the bloggers.

Note: The following interview was edited for length purposes.

Q. The Skillman Foundation has made this big commitment the last 10 years, what’s next for The Skillman Foundation and Detroit

A. We’ve learned a lot from that work and one of the things we spent a lot of time learning was how to have deep relationships with communities – understanding, hearing from them, hearing the realities, seeing leaders borne out of that work. So one of the things I’m really excited about is that we’ve seen many of the young people that have gone through the work we’ve invested in who may be in college or have been able to come back and lead efforts. So I’m really excited about that.

The second thing, I’m excited about is that we’ve really grown a strong portfolio related to boys and young men of color, making sure this population isn’t excluded or isolated and that they do have connections to the economy and that they have the right and proper support. Also, really focusing on career tech education, making sure that young people have the skillsets to create businesses, understand science, think about autonomous cars, coding – all of the things that we know are coming into the field, so that they’re prepared for what’s next. What I would love to see is for every child in the city of the Detroit to have a meaningful connection to the economy and understand what work means and that they change the trajectory of their families for the next generation.

Q. Do you think that connection to the economy would go a long way in helping bridge the gap between what many people call the ‘two Detroits’?

A. We have so much concentrated poverty in Detroit and that’s the problem. The problem is not that we have poor Detroiters, it’s that the poverty is concentrated and it’s encroaching every part of the city. Ultimately, the way that you deal with poverty is cash, hard-earned cash and wealth. So we have to create pathways for young people to get connected to the economy so that they’re making money through employment, creating business, and that they figure out the right pathway to get there.

Q. Why is the Detroit Education Commission (DEC) so crucial?

A. I think it’s crucial because what it does is put quality first. Right now we have a marketplace that puts choice first. The DEC is not anti-choice, this is pro-quality. We have to have high-quality schools and one of the best ways that we can have high-quality schools or move the needle, is to close low-performing schools. If you close low-performing schools you create an environment where the highest performing operators want to come here and then you enable those who are doing a great job to be replicated. That’s the true definition of competition, those that do a good job and win, and the ones that don’t do a good job and lose. But right now we don’t have that kind of control mechanism in the city of Detroit.

Q. What would be the repercussion to passing Legislation that doesn’t have the Detroit Education Commission?

A. Well, I think what you’ll find is that it will be the status quo. We will basically be doing the same thing so we’ll have a little bit more of a sustainable district and enough money that will take us three or four years out, but we will be right back in the same position. It does not move the quality of schools. Our opposition has argued that all of this could be done voluntarily. Well if it could have been done that way, then why haven’t we done it? Since we started these conversations, you could have started doing a voluntary model that would show your intent behind this. All of the things we are talking about in regard to quality measures – we fought to have that put in the legislation when they actually opened up the charter cap.