Michigan House Passes Detroit Funding Measure

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Michigan House of Representatives has narrowly passed a Republican-sponsored package of legislation designed to fix the financial crisis facing Detroit Public Schools.

The bill was a result of a more than 15-hour legislative session and intense back-room negotiations. Republicans claimed that the bills will provide the city district with the tools to improve education, whereas Democrats unanimously opposed the measures, saying that they were inadequate and examples of institutional racism. The package of bills passed on votes on ranging from 55-53 to 61-49, the absolute minimum needed for passage.

“This does nothing to address the underlying causes of the problems facing the Detroit Public Schools,” said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, a Democrat representing Auburn Hills.

A report from WZZM13 notes that the House package splits the Detroit district in two, one to pay off the district’s debt and the other to take over the day-to-day operations of the district. It provides $500 million to help pay off Detroit school’s operating deficit, which is estimated to be $515 million. It also provides an additional $33 million loan to help with the transition to a new district.

Other provisions in the bills would prohibit unions from negotiating the school calendar and work schedules, would require teachers and staff to reapply for their jobs and have compensation be approved based on performance rather than length of service. Unsurprisingly, teachers unions strongly oppose these measures.

Republicans also snuck in sanctions against teachers strikes, which will prohibit the kind of mass “sick-outs” teachers staged in Detroit recently. Some lawmakers accused teacher unions of too narrowly interrupting the definition of a teacher strike, which Michigan law forbids without prior approval.

“It is my opinion, and that of many of my colleagues, that the recent Detroit teacher ‘sickouts’ are in fact illegal strikes,” Republican lawmaker Aric Nesbitt wrote in a letter. “When faced with blatant and repeated violations of state law by unions who are literally taking food out of children’s mouths, and denying them their constitutionally guaranteed right to a public education, bold action is required of all state elected officials.”

Brian McVicar of mLive notes that Democrats and teachers unions also criticized the timeline laid out by the bill for returning the locally elected school board to power. Under the bill, elections would not be held until August 2017, and the board will not return as an elected body until January 1, 2018. In the interim, a 7-person board appointed by the Governor and the Detroit mayor would lead the district. The board will not hire the Superintendent of the district.

Michigan Democrats, who view the bill as inadequate and slapdash, argue that it will disproportionately affect young people of color, who comprise a significantamount of students in the Detroit school system.“These bills build on the foundation of institutional racism,” said Gay-Dagnogo, a former teacher. “Five emergency managers created this deficit. Not teachers who sacrificed their lives and health. Not teachers who are going to get payday loans because they can’t pay their mortgages.”