Alex Witt   |  March 23, 2013

Detroit money trouble affecting schools

Some controversial changes are being made in the Detroit public school system due to the city’s dire budget situation. NBC’s Rehema Ellis reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> another city in financial crisis as sequestration enters its third week. michigan's head start program could be next on the shopping block. nbc's chief education correspondent rehema ellis is joining me this afternoon from detroit and rehema, with a long distance hello to you, my friend, for many students in detroit there are problems with this education system which are now magnified by the statewide economic troubles. you kn i know you were talking about this issue with the governor.

>> we were, and we're going to talk about it all with students when we have a town hall meeting here just a little while from now that everybody can watch online on education nation.com. but the governor says that they have no choice but to make some changes here because of the dire situation that they're in as far as their budget is concerned. the changes have been controversial. but when you think about it, just this one quick statistic, 27% of african-american students who are in the 11th grade and only 62% of white students in the 11th grade are reading at or above proficiency. and the governor says they have got to do better than that. just listen.

>> if you can help kids in those early years, what a difference. if they can make sure they're reading in third grade at the right level, they're prepared for success in many respects but part of what i would say, it's not about one segment, and that's one thing of the discussion i want to get out to everyone here. it's about p-20s. we need a p-20 system of education which is prenatal through life long learning.

>> they have an emergency financial manager who is in control of the detroit public schools . many controversial things have been done such as shutting down schools, consolidating them. it's gotten a lot of people angry, but they are starting to see some progress in the right direction and that is student achievement is going up. the attendance is getting better, and the graduation rates are getting better. is it great? not at all. it's a long road. they know they have that ahead of them and they have a lot of work to do yet but they think this is the beginning. we talked about it here yesterday and we're going to talk about it again today with some students as well as some teachers in a teacher town hall we're going to have later on today. al alex ?

>> based on what you heard yesterday in this town hall , what's a top takeaway for you? was there something that you took away and said if this could happen, things could definitely be on the right track?

>> it's very difficult, alex , because, again, everything is so controversial. one of the biggest things that's going on here that is a takeaway for me is that there are just not enough students to fill all of the schools that they currently have operating in the city of detroit and a lot of cities across this country. so it becomes a very emotional thing for many parents and community leaders to say which school will they close? one of them has to be closed because if you have a school that is half empty, it's not financially feasible for a city and a state that's in financial difficulty to keep the schools open. somehow or another they have to convince people about the best practice and it has not been easy and that's what a lot of people are arguing about. the governor has taken some very, very tough measures in order to bring about some financial security in the city as well as in the state.

>> yeah.

>> alex ?

>> i tell you they need to look no further than to their neighboring chicago. 54 schools being closed. this is timely, happening right now. it's gone over like a lead balloon . i know you have heard the repercussions in detroit . rehema, thank you. we'll look to see what you talk about with the children, the students i should say, later on today. thank you.