Dire straits, charges leave Detroit schools worse off than prison

By Christopher Zoukis

Gymnasium, Courtesy of Go Fund Me page.
Gymnasium, Courtesy of Go Fund Me page.

It’s heart-breaking to hear about the atrocious conditions facing students at Detroit-area schools in recent months and even years. These learning centres are literally crumbling around their staff and students – and the situation continues to get worse.

Spain Elementary and Middle School, one of the worst-off Detroit schools, was recently featured on The Ellen Show because of its high number of poor and even homeless students. The school gym is unusable, the roof is falling apart and even computers and other technology is unusable.

Students must wear coats indoors in winter because there is no heat. Parents and even teachers are so financially strapped they are forced to photocopy textbooks because they can’t afford to buy them. Teachers sometimes lead classes on their own time, because there is not enough funding.

During The Ellen Show, $500,000 was donated to Spain Elementary to help fix some of its problems, and DeGeneres also threw her support behind a GoFundMe campaign for the school. This is incredibly generous, but unfortunately, it’s only a drop in the bucket.

How can we send our children to school – and expect them to learn – when their infrastructure is sometimes in worse shape than that the local prisons?

The Detroit Public School System is heavily in debt, and would not have been able to pay teachers or keep schools open after April 8 if emergency funding hadn’t been approved. This situation has been made worse by corruption charges alleged in a lawsuit filed earlier this month to the tune of $2.7 million against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder over the way the district has been run. (He also faces unrelated charges in the Flint tainted water scandal early this year.)

Even worse is the fact that on Tuesday this week, police officials announced the school’s elementary principal is also facing bribery allegations and was due to answer to these new charges April 12 in court.

It’s no secret that Detroit schools have the lowest test scores in the nation, lagging far behind other large districts in reading and math. Just 3% of 8th graders are proficient in math. Fewer than seven of 10 students even graduate.

Education and a positive learning environment need to be a priority. Schools should not have to rely on emergency funding or online fundraising campaigns to stay open. We need to make sure that schools stay open, funded and offer a high-quality and safe learning environment that go beyond bricks and mortar address a side range of learning, health and behavioural issues.

The plight of these schools is inexcusable and it provides a perfect storm for pushing our children toward prison, if only to escape school. Our children are worth so much more than this, and it’s time political leaders stand up to these atrocities and fighting for better infrastructure, funding and resources.

We can do better, and we need to do better.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com