Detroit ordered to close half its schools to balance books

Last semester, in the 2015 Project transmedia/alternate reality game, I had students confront financial crisis in Michigan and put forth ever increasingly implausible suggestions made by politicians to balance the state budget on the back of the schools with increasing crises akin to World Without Oil. Almost every week, they would do something pretty much worse than the fictional scenarios I put forth.

Some examples:

  • Week 1 – There is a state budget crisis in Michigan in which the government must decide between paying interest on Federal loans to avoid default and paying to keep its public schools open. The government is open to suggestions as to how to solve the problem. At this point, the real crisis is still a couple of weeks away, beginning when the balanced budget requirement impacts the new fiscal year budget beginning in October 1. They have passed a law, giving themselves a reprieve on this until December 1, but must have a solution by then.
  • Week 2 – As the crisis in Michigan continues, politicians have proposed the idea of privatizing all the public schools in Michigan and providing parents with vouchers for $4,000 per child. The least expensive charter school in Michigan is $6,000 and parents are expected to make up the difference. They are open to alternative suggestions.
  • Week 5 – Politicians are suggesting increasing the state income tax to 15% to pay for the school shortfall.
  • Week 6 – Local communities are levying sales taxes on non-food items sold in their cities and towns to pay for schools.
  • Week 7 – The governor has suggested increasing the state income tax on those earning in the top 15% and removing all agreements with corporations that allowed them to have decades without taxes to move to the state.

As I posted these, strange things happened in Michigan:

Today, the government of Michigan is planning to try some new things that make my disaster scenarios seem pretty silly:

1. Governor’s budget eliminates tax credits for film production in the state . Despite a study saying that the credits bring $6 in economic activity for each $1 spent. Sounds fiscally wise to me.

2. Order a shut down of half of Detroit’s schools. “the financial restructuring plan will increase high school class sizes to 60 students and consolidate operations.” This is a plan that communicates high value on the poorest and most vulnerable in the population of the state. Nicely done.

As someone who grew up in the state and went to school in Detroit, this seems like a plan that will devastate all of southeast Michigan and result in even more people leaving a state that will soon look like Wyoming in terms of population. I know not what will solve the problem, but I do know that destroying the educational quality of the largest population center in your state is not a great idea if you want to rebuild your society and economics.

Maybe one of the undergraduates this fall will generate a workable solution.


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