The Michigan Department of Education is withholding $5 million dollars of federal money from the Detroit Public Schools after finding them in substantive violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, our federal law that mandates a “free appropriate public education” for students with disabilities. This is outrageous when the very same Department gave ALL Michigan school districts, including Detroit a “meets requirements” for their so-called performance on the special education programs and services delivered during the 2008-09 school year. Solely to allow them to reduce their special education budgets by 50% of the one-time federal increase in special education funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan referred to Detroit Public Schools as “Ground Zero” and the Michigan Department of Education still gave them a “meets requirements” for special education as recently as June 2009 in a memo from Dr. Jacqueline Thompson the recently retired State Director of the Office of Special Education.
Parents are now supposed to believe Dr. Eleanor White the State’s newly installed Director when she says, “It is completely unacceptable for students not to receive the services they’re supposed to… These children have a constitutional right to a good education. It’s an entitlement. We take that very seriously.” (Detroit News 10-21-10)
The Michigan Department of Education under the leadership of Governor Granholm and Superintendent Michael Flanagan have done anything but take the education of our state’s 237,000 K-12 students with disabilities seriously. It is not only Detroit that continues to fail in its obligation to provide a free appropriate public education to the students with special needs. Why is the MDE ignoring Highland Park, Hamtramck, River Rouge, Ferndale, Inkster, Pontiac, Saginaw, Flint, Lincoln Park, Southfield, Ferndale and Oak Park? And yes there are many more. Detroit children with disabilities are not the only students being denied their civil right to a public education that prepares them for post secondary education and the global workforce. More than 28% of Michigan students with a disability drop out of school after entering the 9th grade. The achievement gaps are better than 50% points by the time these students reach the 8th grade.
Detroit children with and without disabilities grab the daily, weekly and monthly headlines due to more than 40 years of educational neglect and abuse, but they are far from the only K-12 students suffering in school districts, public academies and charters across a state that has not cared about a crumbling and archaic public education system in almost 50 years. Our children with special needs are egregiously underserved…so why is only Detroit losing federal funds? How can the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education give the State of Michigan a “meets requirements” when Detroit has been found so out of compliance that $5 million in federal funds have been withheld. When you have an answer will you please explain this to our 237,000 K-12 students who go to school and wonder when the day will arrive that their education and future will matter?
– Marcie Lipsitt