Legislator files Freedom of Information request to get answers on EAA
Unable to obtain clear answers on vital questions about operations of the Education Achievement Authority, state Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton, D-Huntington Woods, this week filed a Freedom of Information Act request with EAA Chancellor John Covington.
Currently a pilot program in Detroit, House Bill 4369 creates a statewide EAA that would be allowed to take over up to 50 public schools across the state deemed to be in the state's bottom 5 percent -- without so much as conducting an educational audit to determine the specific problems facing the schools in question. The bill, which narrowly passed the state House and is now before the state Senate, would also allow the EAA to create new charter schools within two miles of a so-called "failing" school.
In addition, public school employees transferred to EAA schools would lose their collective bargaining rights.
"Before we rush to subject Michigan's school children to the unproven experiment on them that is the EAA, it is vital that Michigan's lawmakers and the public have a deep understanding of the EAA," said Lipton, minority vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee. "We need to know its total financial picture, whether enrollment has changed in its first year, whether it has taken steps to avoid special education students, teacher turnover rates and how involved on a day-to-day basis Governor Snyder and his office is in oversight of the school system he wants to expand across the state."
Lipton's FOIA request seeks information on:
- The $10 million the EAA recently received from the Broad Foundation
- The $1,000 per-student payment advance the EAA received from the Michigan Department of Education
- The EAA's financial standing in its first six months of operation
- Details on teacher turnover and teacher certification compliance
- Confirmation that EAA-run schools are giving special education students the educational opportunities and accommodations they legally deserve
- Whether out-of-state groups and financial interests are helping fund the EAA, and whether those groups are pressuring the EAA to buy materials and products from companies or organizations in exchange for additional funding
"I am truly concerned about improving educational opportunities for all children," Lipton said. "If the EAA is performing worse than the schools it seeks to replace -- and we have no data to the contrary -- students will be worse off in the EAA, while private interests are enriched and the overall health of a affected district is reduced."
MEA opposes the bill in its current form, and is advocating for amendments to HB 4369 that address these specific problems with the EAA:
- Require schools in the bottom 5 percent to undergo independent education audits prior to being subjected to an EAA takeover. This will provide local school staff and leaders with an independent, expert viewpoint that identifies and addresses specific issues. The legislation passed by the House does not require these audits.
- Maintain collective bargaining rights for EAA school employees, and allow them to retain their rights and seniority when transferred back to a traditional school. House Bill 4369 currently bars teachers and support staff at EAA schools from engaging in collective bargaining, and allows for the wholesale transfer and termination of employees that would normally be handled through negotiations.
- Ensure that all EAA employees will continue to be part of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. This would save taxpayers money by keeping more contributions going to the system from individuals and employers, helping to stabilize the pension fund. Otherwise, the state will continue to see increases in unfunded liabilities – a problem lawmakers worked last year to correct.
"MEA has always been committed to helping struggling schools, and that must be centered on working together to get the job done while protecting both the students and the employees dedicated to educating them," MEA President Steve Cook recently said. "We will continue to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to find a common solution that protects students, taxpayers and school employees."