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Most Detroit schools closed again due to teacher ‘sickouts

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An example of an un-repaired gym floor in the Detroit  Public School System, which can be considered a safety hazard
An example of an un-repaired gym floor in the Detroit Public School System, which can be considered a safety hazard

After learning that the Detroit Public School System has only enough funds to pay teachers and education professionals through June 30, many teachers and administrators responded by striking in the form of a “sick-out.” Because it is illegal for teachers to strike, 1500+ teachers in the Detroit greater metropolitan area called-in sick, effectively closing 94 of 97 public schools for the past two days.  The average teacher earns about 63,000 dollars per year, and according to the teachers’ union, nearly 2/3 of teachers choose to have their pay distributed evenly throughout the calendar year rather than just during the academic year. For those teachers, the news regarding a shortage of funds to pay teacher salaries is even more concerning and unfair than for others, since it means they are currently working hours that will not be compensated for in the future. Interestingly, this is not the first instance of teacher sick-outs; earlier this year, teachers staged a sick-out to protest against the dilapidated condition of many schools, which in some cases may be dangerous. Teachers and lobbyists have encouraged the Michigan state legislature to pass an education reform bill that would allocate $715 million dollars towards teacher pay and hopefully repairs for the schools. Until then, however, kids remain out of school, disrupting not only their learning but also the lives of working parents who have to take time off work to care for their children.


  1. barnettt18

    This article is important from a human capital standpoint. Because many children in the Detroit public education system are sons and daughters of auto workers, public teachers who strike are effectively undercutting the future human capital resources of automakers in order to leverage power for themselves in the market. Assuming that many current students will go into the auto industry, this move plays a significant role in Detroit and may have long term effects on education outcomes and productivity for the industry. What do you think about this?

    Thomas Barnett

    May 3, 2016
    • manleya18

      That’s an excellent point- I think that if the current situation does not resolve, there could be significant effects on the future economic infrastructure of Detroit. The multiplier effects of a non-functioning education system could include reduced younger population moving to Detroit to settle down and start families, loss of important auto-workers in Detroit, and potentially some car manufacturing plants moving away from the Detroit Area because of poor public school systems and increased crime.

      May 3, 2016
      • The flight of the middle class from Detroit began in earnest in the late 1960s. There is only one assembly plant left inside the city, and only a few parts plants. GM’s headquarters are in downtown Detroit, but most who work there commute from the suburbs and don’t even necessarily walk around downtown much. Most of those who remain in the city are poor, or send their children to private schools (I’ve heard that schools run by the Catholic Church have experienced a renaissance; there are many, many charter schools, too.)

        May 7, 2016
  2. adamsm19

    Given the dire financial position of the Detroit Public School System what is the plan going forward for the coming academic year? I read an article in the Washington Post recently that discussed the outdated physical facilities in Detroit including buildings that haven’t been updated since the early 1950s. If there is no money for teacher salaries let alone capital expenditures are there any plans in the works for assistance from the state or federal government to keep the schools solvent going forward?

    May 3, 2016
  3. siegels18

    It’s also interesting to note that parents of children who can’t go to school because of these semi strikes must stay home from work to take care of their children during the day. This seems like it could create a ripple affect of possible job loss for their parents, which would create problems within the auto industry and other industries in the area that are losing valuable members of their work force as a result of the strikes. This makes me think that the local government should step in and try to get the teachers back working again.

    May 3, 2016
  4. helgansg18

    This is a very interesting article and leads to some important decisions. Contrary to what others might think about this issue, I believe that the teachers are in the wrong here and frankly are making the situation much worse. By striking through “sick outs” they are closing school for children and causing them to be outside the classroom and back home. For many working parents this will cause them to seek babysitting/daycare services or stay home to take care of their children. Ironically, the teachers who are striking about working days that they may not be paid for are getting paid for days they are not working. While I understand that the teachers are frustrated, performing their second sick out in one year does not seem to be the solution to their problems. They would be much better off returning to school and having class back in session so this issue does not permeate into other industries. Thoughts?

    May 3, 2016
    • Why should teachers work for free?

      May 7, 2016
  5. platte16

    I do not think the teachers are in the wrong. Although parents are forced to find other childcare options, they are given notice to do so. Most parents can have a plan in place unlike other times when the District cancels school, such as snow days, and no notice is given. I believe the positive externality of drawing attention to the situation outweighs the cost. Schools across the country are falling apart, not just in Detroit. These teachers have a platform to draw the nation’s eye to the overdue issue of education policy reform. The majority of funding for schools come from the locality and, as seen in Detroit and other areas including my hometown in Pennsylvania, this policy is failing children. With the upcoming election and the possibility to influence policy on all levels, the nation needs to address these issues and find a solution.

    May 5, 2016
    • If property prices fall, then children suffer because schools face budget crunches. Not the fault of their parents, not the fault of the kids. And if you’re poor, can you realistically move out to the suburbs in search of better schools???

      May 7, 2016
      • brewsterw18

        Professor, you bring up an excellent point about the effects of property prices falling and the reality of those underprivileged finding better schooling. Therefore, I was wondering if you had any expertise or thoughts on how Detroit should legally handle this education problem?

        May 19, 2016
        • At bottom it’s an issue of whether you have the dollars – the legal system is an [addition] overhead cost, and won’t generate money out of thin air.

          May 26, 2016

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