Michigan offers to prevent or delay school closures

Posted at 11:59 PM, Mar 03, 2017

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The state of Michigan appears increasingly unlikely to follow through on threats to close up to 38 chronically low-performing schools in Detroit and seven other cities this summer.

In a letter made public Friday, state Superintendent Brian Whiston told affected districts — those with schools ranked in the bottom 5 percent statewide for at least three straight years — that decisions to potentially shut down their schools would be delayed by 18 months if they instead sign “partnership” agreements with the state Education Department within 60 days. Each agreement would identify turnaround strategies along with goals and benchmarks that would have to be met.

Whiston told the districts “it is critical that we move quickly.”

The development came more than a week after Gov. Rick Snyder delayed closure decisions until May after facing widespread pushback. He also ordered collaboration between the state School Reform Office, which reports to him and which sent the contentious closing notices in January, and the Education Department — which he has less control over and from which he had transferred the reform office in 2015 in a bid to get tougher on failing schools.

Officials are assessing whether shutting each school would pose an “unreasonable hardship” to students. They are looking at whether there are schools within 30 miles that rank higher academically and could handle additional enrollment, though transportation barriers would remain.

Twenty-five of the 38 schools at risk are in Detroit.

Two districts, Saginaw and Kalamazoo, have sued to stop the possible closures.