Michigan Agency Overstated Powers in Effort to Win Funding

In an application for nearly $36 million in federal funding, the body newly charged with overseeing failing schools in Detroit has overstated its authority, The Detroit News reports. Among other claims, the application to the U.S. Department of Education states that the Education Achievement Authority, which will operate 15 schools in Detroit starting in September, states that will also be allowed to open and operate up to 45 additional schools in 10 districts by 2017 – which isn’t the case.

The grant application took liberties with other facts, claiming to be an IRS-authorized charitable organization and that EAA Chancellor John Covington “has been given the mandate and authority to take control of persistently poor performing schools throughout Michigan” — an issue still being debated in the Legislature.

EAA spokesman Bob Berg said the inaccuracies were “screw-ups” in a hastily written application submitted in late July and approved in October.

The Detroit News exposed the errors after the application documents were made public through a Freedom of Information Act request. Additional documents reveal an agency that is unclear as to scope both of its powers and its duties. The expose reveals officials making statements regarding agency powers – including authority to take over poorly performing districts elsewhere in the state – that have still not been definitively settled by Michigan lawmakers.

Although legislation allowing EAA to operate outside Detroit has passed in the state House, because of the opposition of Senate Education Committee chairman Phil Pavlov, the bill hasn’t yet had a floor vote in the chamber.

Michael Rice, the chairman of Kalamazoo Public Schools, the district that runs three of the schools the EAA app claims the authority to take over, was surprised, calling the assumption optimistic at best and “presumptuous” at worst.

In addition to Detroit and Kalamazoo, the grant said it would be running schools in Battle Creek, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Pontiac, Port Huron, Saginaw and Southfield. The grant was approved, and the EAA is eligible to receive $1.6 million at the end of this school year, Berg said.

“They make it seem as though it’s a done deal,” said Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, who reviewed the grant for The News.

Debbie DiVirgilio, president and interim CEO of the Grant Professionals Association in Kansas City, said it is not an accepted practice among grant applicants to use inaccurate data.

In response to the news story, EAA officials blamed the mix-up on outside contractor whose errors weren’t spotted due to lack of time before application deadline.