Michigan Civil Rights commission calls for statewide education equity plan

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is calling for the creation of a statewide educational equity plan to improve policies, accountability and opportunities for students.

The commission, charged with investigating alleged discrimination, issued a 62-page report on Wednesday after its year-long investigation into equity in K-12 education in Michigan. It met Wednesday to release the report, which can be found here.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission is calling for the creation of a statewide educational equity plan to improve policies, accountability and opportunities for students. (Photo: Detroit News file)

“This Commission believes that an adequate education is the key to unlocking a lifetime of opportunities and also is a basic civil right,” said Stacie Clayton, the commission’s chair. “We learned during our education hearings that not all children receive the kind of education they deserve as their birthright.

“We urge policy makers, educators and other stakeholders across the state to view this report as a roadmap they can follow to help schools achieve educational equity and give all Michigan children — regardless of household income, race, residency or ability — the education they need to lead productive and fulfilling lives.”

The report was spurred when the commission investigated the root causes of the Flint water crisis and found educational inequities in Flint’s K-12 school system. To “determine the size and scope of the inequities across schools and districts,” it launched hearings throughout the state in 2018 and 2019 in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Ypsilanti and Clinton Township, listening to educators, students, parents and others talk about the challenges in the state’s fragmented education system.

Through those hearings, the commission said, the problem observed with the state’s education system was a lack of a single system and instead hundreds of independent systems all resourced differently. 

“This type of patchwork system has led to disparities between ‘high-performing’ districts and those considered ‘failing,’ perpetuating generational poverty with no escape,” the report said.

It sited the state’s school funding reform known as Proposal A, per-pupil funding and charter schools siphoning off public tax money for education inequities.

“An adequate education is a civil right belonging to every Michigan child. However, this right is not provided to students equally across Michigan,” the report said.

“All too often, the effectiveness of public school systems is directly determined by the racial and economic makeup of the community,” the report says. “Historically, affluent and white neighborhoods have stronger school systems with opportunities for student success. Historically, poor neighborhoods of color and/or minority neighborhoods lack the resources and opportunities.”

The report, which will be sent to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, state lawmakers and others, calls for the state to take action to address inequities in Michigan’s schools, including having the Michigan Department of Civil Rights expand the existing Council for Government and Education on Equity and Inclusion to include the Michigan Department of Education.

It also calls for the council to be designated as the entity responsible for implementing and overseeing the commission’s recommendations in the report. In addition to creation of a statewide equity plan, recommendations include:

  • Ensuring all data collected by state and county government entities be separated for race and ethnicity.
  • Encouraging schools across the state to create local school equity plans and contribute information and resources to encourage and support equitable practices and opportunities for schools.
  • Hosting professional development training workshops and a yearly “Best Practices in Education Equity” conference.
  • Providing year-round cultural competency/race and equity education, advice and coaching. 

Other recommendations include increasing internet access for students and families, and supporting a teacher training program through universities and colleges that encourage diversity in its teaching roles and student enrollment.

Members of the commission said they want the report to act as a road map for developing school equity plans.

“We hope to bring an ‘equity lens’ to the discussion, which in this case means that we will focus on providing equal educational opportunity when we explore issues, rather than just equal educational resources or achievement,” the report says.

A report by Michigan State University last year found that Michigan ranked “dead last” among all states in revenue growth for K-12 schools since approval of Proposal A in 1994.

Adjusting for inflation, taxes generated for the state’s K-12 system in 2015 was about 85% of the amount in 1995 and “no other stae is close to a decline of this magnitute,” the report found.

Michigan’s per-pupil funding revenue dropped by 15% over the same period, ranking 48th out of 50 states, according to the report.

The Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights serves as the operational arm of the commission.

In 2019, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights asked the Grosse Pointe publc school district to hold off on its decisions to close some schools and reconfigure the district amid allegations of racial bias. The district declined.

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