by Scott McClallen
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed House Bill 4945, she threw into uncertainty the futures of 136 at-risk Detroit kids, supporters of the measure say.
Possibilities include prison, the streets, or shipping them across the state to another Strict Disciplinary Academy (SDA) instead of allowing them an education through Ace Academy in Highland Park.
Housing troubled kids between the ages of 12 and 20, Ace Academy and about nine other SDA’s statewide give kids a second chance at a better life via education to complete high school, proponents say.
After 13 years, Central Michigan University (CMU) won’t issue Ace Academy’s charter contract after June 30, due to “critical issues” with special education services, CMU’s Communications Director Janelle Brzezinski told The Center Square.
“While not recommending reauthorization of an Academy is never an easy decision, we are committed to holding schools accountable,” Brzezinski wrote in an email. “A large focus of our decision was based on the school not being responsive in correcting critical issues with their special education services. We cannot recommend continuing a partnership with a school that is not properly providing special education services that are so important to the quality of the students’ education and future.”
The bill aimed to solve this problem by authorizing Highland Park to charter Ace Academy, before Whitmer’s veto.
Highland Park School is a K-8 school, so under state law, it can’t authorize Ace Academy.
“It makes little sense for a school district that does not currently serve any high school students to take on the responsibility of authorizing a strict discipline academy,” Whitmer’s veto letter said.
Ace Academy hasn’t responded to multiple requests from The Center Square for comment.
Bill sponsor and House Education Committee Chair Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Twp., said she was “disappointed” but “not surprised” by the veto.
Hornberger said the “naysayers” never offered an alternate plan for the future education of 136 children if Ace Academy is shuttered. About 80% are from Highland Park, she said.
Hornberger claimed the Michigan Education Association and Whitmer killed the bill because both dislike charter schools. Using that excuse “not to educate these kids is pretty disgusting,” Hornberger said.
Whitmer’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“None of [the naysayers] up until now, that I know of, have offered any solutions for those students,” Hornberger told The Center Square in a phone interview. “If you know anything about that strict disciplinary academy, it isn’t a residential facility. It’s a last chance for those kids.”
Under current law, eligible students can enroll into an SDA if they’ve been expelled or placed by court order into state or county juvenile programs.
“The other option for a judge is to send those kids to prison. They’re convicted felons,” Hornberger said. “These aren’t kids who go home every night to a family. To leave them without an education option is pretty darn sad.“
The Senate Fiscal Agency noted the bill would have had no fiscal impact on the state or local intermediate school districts, school districts, or public school academies.
Buddy Moorehouse, vice president of public relations for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), said the veto left more questions than answers.
“Nobody knows where they’ll go if the school shuts down,” Moorehouse said in an email. “There’s a chance the program will continue – but not as a charter school – but that doesn’t solve the issue of getting them a high school diploma. All of that is up in the air right now.”
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.