Skillman CEO: Kids in Detroit Deserve the Best the State has to Offer

Skillman CEO talks about what’s at stake for kids in Detroit with new legislation

Earlier this week Skillman Foundation CEO Tonya Allen came on Detroit Today to discuss controversial legislation working its way through the legislature. The proposal would have a dramatic effect on Detroit Public Schools — infusing hundreds of millions of dollars into the district, splitting the district in two, and forcing an election for a new school board this summer.

The question of how to help the floundering district often comes with tense, emotional conversations as the future is crafted for tens of thousands of kids in Detroit. Many people aren’t happy with how Republican leadership at the state Capitol and many out-state lawmakers are talking about Detroit Public Schools and crafting the legislation. On Detroit Today on Wednesday Allen described the current field of term-limited legislators as “the worst of the worst” in an off-the-cuff conversation about education. Allen has since walked back from that comment, apologizing to lawmakers, and she joined host Stephen Henderson to clarify her position.

Allen says her biggest gripe is not with lawmakers, but rather with term limits, which she describes as “breaking” the state of Michigan. Critics of term limits say they prevent institutional knowledge and historical from guiding conversations, instead giving way to politics and polarization. “I don’t think it has a long enough view,” of state issues that can often last beyond lawmakers’ terms, says Allen.

In regard to apologizing to legislators for her “worst of the worst” criticism, Allens says “I would take my lumps” if it means the DPS legislation receives due diligence and what’s best for kids in Detroit.

Allen also says she is not opposed to school choice in the city’s school system, but that “choice is second, quality is first” in importance. “We have a ton of charter schools in our city that are under-performing,” she says. “We’re trying to improve choice.” She says poor performing schools are “no choice at all.”

She says she thinks lawmakers would like to get the DPS bills off of their plate, and she’s hoping that will drive a desire to pass a viable solution and not simply a stop-gap measure to keep the schools funded for a few months at a time.