Overhaul Detroit Schools without Giving Health Insurance to Dead People

It’s Friday. What better time to kick an institution that’s down, and deservedly so? If anyone is taking nominees for an American school district to tear down and start over the education system from scratch, I vote for the Detroit Public Schools. Anyone with me?

The district’s well-documented failures and financial deficits are exacerbated by the latest findings of far-reaching corruption. The Detroit Free Press reports today about what was found in a pair of audits of Detroit Public Schools (H/T Intercepts):

Among the findings: 160 outdated BlackBerrys, 11 motorcycles, 97 two-way phones and 50 handheld radios sat unused. One audit also showed that 411 people — including some who are dead — were receiving health insurance even though they weren’t eligible.

Ending those benefits will save the district an immediate $2.1 million, [emergency financial manager Robert] Bobb said.

Health insurance for dead people? To cover future embalming needs? Protection money from grave robbers? If we take away their benefits, will they be added to the rolls of Americans without health insurance? Unbelievable stuff. Do you see what I mean?

The venerable Dr. Jay Greene was right when he noted, “Given the longterm academic results of DPS, shrinking it in half in 8 years should be considered a humanitarian triumph.” Well, even though Bobb has backed off somewhat from earlier talks about the school district filing for bankruptcy, we really need to focus on saving the students and not the system.

A very good start would be giving every Detroit student a voucher to choose a public or private school to attend. Create a new, thriving competitive marketplace for education. As it is, even a full-fledged school choice program will take a long time to remedy some of the effects of institutional and social dysfunction. But putting the same sort of system as has existed back into place would be criminal, and insane. Perhaps criminally insane.

For New Orleans, it took a massive hurricane to overhaul the corrupt, failing school system. Detroit can’t count on a natural disaster. But something drastic has to happen. An “I’m In” campaign to lure back some of the thousands of departing students without the fundamental changes will do little more keep DPS afloat for awhile with some additional revenue.

Maybe my idea isn’t so original. The Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer already has offered the same sort of proposal, and made a stronger case for it.

Start over from scratch. And whatever you do, don’t give health insurance benefits to dead people!