LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan House narrowly approved a $617 million state bailout and restructuring plan for Detroit’s ailing school district Thursday night.
The legislation would retire the state-managed Detroit Public Schools’ enormous $467 million operating debt over time and provide $150 million to transition to a new district in July. The plan now goes to the Senate for consideration.
The House and Senate passed different restructuring plans earlier this year, and Thursday’s legislation is a compromise between the two. It was approved after hours of closed-door talks, with lawmakers voting 55-53 on the central bill.
Democrats blasted the legislation because they say it does nothing to address root problems at the district and doesn’t have any mechanism to ensure charter schools are opening in the right areas of the city.
Ann Arbor Rep. Adam Zemke, a Democrat, said the legislation would hurt “a city of young black boys and girls.”
Detroit’s enrollment is a third of what it was a decade ago, and the district, which has been under continuous state control since 2009, is considered the worst of its size in the country. More than half of students living in the city attend a charter school or suburban district, prompting criticism that charters have opened largely unchecked, to the detriment of the district.
Republican Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter praised the legislation and said it will keep the schools open, avoid bankruptcy for the district and make sure teachers are paid.
“This plan is a plan put forward to save education in Detroit,” Cotter said. “Not just an entity, but education in Detroit, and at the same time to avoid what would be disastrous bankruptcy.”
Emergency aid previously approved will run out by June 30.
Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, said Meekhof needed to speak with GOP senators but “he thinks this latest plan is a realistic compromise between the House and Senate proposals.”
Gov. Rick Snyder’s spokesman Ari Adler said the governor and lawmakers are “getting toward a compromise” and Snyder is watching to see if the Senate also approves the legislation. He called the plan “good progress.”
Under the legislation, a Financial Review Commission would oversee the district. It would have the final say on when superintendents are fired and would approve operating budgets. Cotter called those responsibilities “accountability” measures to ensure tax money isn’t wasted.
The measure would schedule a school board election for November. The Senate’s call for a commission to make decisions about opening traditional and publicly funded charter schools wasn’t included in the House plan, despite that idea’s support from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the Republican governor, some GOP senators, business leaders and others.
Instead, an advisory board would issue reports on where schools are needed in Detroit.
Associated Press writer David Eggert contributed to this report.
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