During a freewheeling exchange Thursday at the 2019 Detroit Policy Conference, a range of local, state, and national leaders shared their vision for Detroit over the next decade and it was a vision anchored by cautious optimism.
However, one common theme among Michigan leadership was the need to improve education outcomes for Detroit students in particular as key to the city’s future success.
During a much-anticipated interview with Dennis Archer Jr., who facilitated the discussion and was the chairman of the conference, Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert said, it is the most important issue and that the Detroit Public School System is “not where it needs to be.”
“It’s certainly no genius revelation here … everybody’s known that for years and decades,” he said. “You pick up a newspaper, go online …”
Gilbert recalled searching newspapers online and coming across education stories about DPS from the 1960s, 70s, 80 and being stunned to see that the same problem with the system has existed for generations.
“It’s the same, as the same words, we’re almost going to match them word for word, which is crazy now,” he said.
However, Gilbert said in spite of DPS challenges he believes after the state takeover and major changes made to the structure of the schools, school board, and administration; he is optimistic that the school system now has the right people in place to move things forward.
“It seems like we have the right people in place when it comes to DPS moving forward,” he said. “It just feels like there’s momentum and people are talking and thinking things are happening.”
The conference took place at the Motor City Casino on Thursday and speakers took part in discussions on how to improve mass transit, education, create an inclusive economy in Detroit, and mold the city’s future.
Archer Jr., CEO of Ignition Media Group, and founding partner of Archer Corporate Services said the Conference theme was 2030: A Vision for the Future because the need for all stakeholders in Michigan to look beyond the immediate future as they envision what kind of place, they are hoping the state and city of Detroit ultimately will be.
“Where do we want Detroit to be in the year 2030, and what do we have to do, to know we will be where we want to be in10 years,” he said. “Just who are the stakeholders? The Chamber? State and local government?”
“So, we really went out of our way to make sure that we have representation from all elements of the city,” Archer Jr. said. “And there’s a lot of small business to make sure that we don’t have just have the corporate perspective.”
Other speakers included Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, StockX’s Josh Luber, and Author and Placemaker, Jay Pitter.
Although Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lamented the decline in educational achievement in the state as a whole, she said she was determined to raise it.
During an interview with Christy McDonald of Detroit Public Television’s One Detroit,
She said it is on Michigan’s leaders to make sure that we fix the education system in Michigan.
“We used to be the envy of the world, and now our third graders are in the bottom 10 in our country in reading,” Whitmer said. “It’s unacceptable and we’re never going to make sure that this is an economy and quality of life that people come to, if we don’t fix the education crisis in Michigan.”
The governor said her budget will have a lot of things in it to ensure that every child was literate by the end of third grade that every child has the opportunity and wraparound support that they need.
“That we infuse some common sense and some, some audacious goals,’ Whitmer said. “Michigan was the only state in the Midwest that did not have a formalized post-secondary attainment goal, until I gave the State of the State and set it at 60%. And I chose 60% because that’s where every other state is, is focused and I said we’re going to get there by 2030.”
However, she said to achieve that goal her Administration has to not only get her budget passed but change the education system.
“We’ve got to ensure everyone has a path to a high wage skill, and that’s all going to be a part of the budget that I’m introducing on Tuesday,” Whitmer said. “And if we get it done, we are going to have a state that will hold our young people here because they want to stay here to build a life here and we draw others into the state.”