Why Are We Helping Detroit?

Bonnie Alfonso

Declining enrollment, staggering legacy costs, deteriorating buildings, state funding cuts and tough decisions to shut down neighborhood elementary schools. Welcome to Traverse City.

And Detroit.
And Flint.
And Mackinaw City.

As I write this, the Senate has passed legislation for a $715 million cash infusion for Detroit Public Schools (DPS). By the time you are reading this, one of three things will have happened:

  • The House passed the plan as presented (don’t hold your breath)
  • The House added to the plan and is garnering votes or
  • The House kicked the can down the road.

But hey, that’s Detroit’s problem, right? What does this have to do with me? Trust me, I’m the first in line to board that train of thought. I am not from Detroit, I do not have children in public schools. I am not even a parent. It is tempting to turn a blind eye, ignore the real politics and go binge-watch House of Cards.

Now is when our State, your elected officials, need you involved in creating a solution for all of Michigan. Education is a complicated issue with many challenging aspects. What is happening in Lansing and Detroit will impact you, your business, your co-workers and every citizen in our state. Think it’s difficult to find qualified labor now? If we don’t address the issues challenging our system, do you imagine it will improve?

Let’s go retro for a moment with a 60 Minutes/SNL-style Point/Counter Point review of the DPS situation:


The State has an obligation to provide an education to all children in Michigan. DPS is not sustainable with this debt and obligation; 40,000 children are at risk without an intervention from the State.


Without additional reforms, this proposal sends more money to a historically troubled system without real solutions. The $715 million just brings Detroit back to ground zero. How will the funds and legislation ensure we won’t be in this same positon in five years?


Funds are not coming from the school aid fund so it is not taking away from other school districts. It is ultimately the state’s responsibility to shore up the debt.


Although the funds are coming from the tobacco settlement allocation, these are state dollars that could be used for other priorities that impact all Michigan residents, such as roads and infrastructure.


A thriving Detroit is a key part of Michigan’s success and good schools will help to revive the city, which will benefit the entire state.


Detroit needs to create a solution they will implement and follow for success. Lansing can’t make Detroit healthy. I don’t know what the answer is, I’m not sure how I feel about the proposed legislation and solutions.

Here’s what I do know: we want to know our kids have every opportunity to succeed. We want our future leaders, co-workers, and neighbors to have the tools, resources and education to thrive. We want to make sure our kids have a fair shot.

And so does EVERY parent in the state.

Get involved, share your perspective. We need your voice to shape a strong, educated Michigan.

Bonnie Alfonso is president of Alfie Logo Gear in Traverse City. She serves as the Vice Chair of the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce and is the Immediate Past Chair of the Small Business Association of Michigan.