Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

May 12, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: EEA raises questions

Ellen Cogen Lipton didn’t get a lot of notice during her first two terms in the Legislature. She was small, soft-spoken, and competent, a reliably liberal vote from the solidly Democratic suburb of Huntington Woods, a town of restored older homes inhabited largely by professors, attorneys, and young professionals.

This year, however, that has all changed. Lipton, the minority vice chair on the House Education Committee, became interested in the Educational Achievement Authority, or EAA, the experimental agency Gov. Rick Snyder launched to try to fix what were said to be 15 of Detroit’s lowest-performing schools.

The Legislature initially didn’t get any say in the formation of the EAA; the governor bypassed them to set up an “interlocal” agreement with Eastern Michigan University.

But now, after less than a year, the governor wants to expand its reach statewide, initially to 50 schools. A bill to do that narrowly passed the House last month.

The Senate is expected to take it up next month, and since Republicans have more than two-thirds of that body, its passage would seem to be a foregone conclusion.

But Ellen Lipton isn’t convinced. A former teacher who comes from a family of educators, she says the more she looks into the EAA, the more questions she has. When she asked for some basic information, such as the number of teachers the EAA employs who are certified in their subjects, she says she has been stonewalled.

After weeks of making Freedom of Information Act requests, she finally began getting hundreds of pages of documents last week. “They aren’t organized at all, and will take some time to study,” she told me. “But they raise as many questions as answers.”

One potentially troubling revelation that has surfaced so far is that the EAA is anything but financially solvent. Documents the district reluctantly released as a result of her FOIA requests indicate the new authority has borrowed at least $12 million since September from its parent, the already cash-strapped Detroit public school district.

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