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Failed school reform model should be ended, not rewarded with an expansion

LANSING – Following a Detroit News investigation that found that the failed Education Achievement Authority has charged nearly $240,000 on credit cards for staff travel to places such as Orlando and Las Vegas, gasoline for a chauffeured car and massive amounts of IKEA furniture, House Democrats are calling for an immediate investigation into the troubled district and demand that the EAA be shut down, not expanded, as legislative Republicans are contemplating.

“The EAA had to borrow $12 million through the Detroit Public Schools to stay afloat, and then needed an advance from the state when they couldn’t pay it back. At the same time, EAA fat cats, such as Chancellor John Covington, were taking trips around the country to places such as Orlando, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach and Los Angeles, spending $25,000 on IKEA furniture and putting $10,000 in gasoline into Covington’s chauffeur-driven car,” House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) said. “Meanwhile, the EAA’s teachers were told that if they wanted books in their classrooms, they’d have to buy it themselves. There can be no excuse for this selfish behavior and utter disregard for our kids. There must be an investigation into these abuses, and those responsible must be held accountable.”

Information about the EAA’s questionable expenses comes as the Legislature considers expanding the EAA across the state. Currently operating 15 schools in Detroit, the most recent proposal would allow the EAA to take over the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide in terms of academic achievement.

“The EAA has demonstrated once again that it exists to serve its own administrators and not our kids,” said Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), Democratic vice chairwoman for the House Education Committee. “To consider expanding the EAA in light of these most recent abuses would be inexcusable. We don’t need to enlarge the EAA, we need to end it and replace it with real reforms that work.”

House Democrats have proposed House Bills 5268 and 5269, which would establish a locally determined transformation processes to improve Michigan’s struggling schools, and require a study to determine what it actually costs to educate a student in a Michigan classroom. Both bills have stalled in the Republican-led House.

Instead, Republicans are considering expanding the EAA. Touted as a fix to Michigan’s most challenged schools, the EAA has instead become a rolling disaster since it first took over 15 Detroit schools in 2012-13 school year. Besides requiring a multi-million dollar cash infusion to stay afloat, the district has also seen enrollment fall by more than 25 percent and most of its students’ Michigan Education Assessment Program scores showed minimal improvement or even worsened. Many students, teachers and parents have criticized the EAA’s computer-based learning model, and some have highlighted security concerns at the schools.

“We’ve gotten used to the EAA failing our kids at every opportunity, but to see that the district squandered almost $240,000 on junkets for administrators, trendy and foreign furniture and other frivolities is even worse than I could have expected from them,” said Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids), vice chairman of the House School Aid Fund Appropriations Subcommittee. “Teachers were being told there was no money for books while adults were traveling to vacation destinations and charging the bill to taxpayers. Legislative Republicans must do the right thing and immediately investigate this outrageous squandering of taxpayer money and disregard of the public’s trust.”

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