Michigan House Passes Detroit Schools Bill

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Detroit’s struggling school district has been given a $617 million deal from the Michigan House that will enable its schools to be bailed out and restructured by the state. A compromise was offered to majority Republicans, which was the catalyst needed to pass the Michigan House proposal last week.

WDIV-TV reported that the bills would eliminate the state-managed Detroit Public Schools’ $467 million debt over time and fund $150 million to shift to a new district in July, explained a summary of the proposal obtained by The Associated Press.

This bill is not the first restructuring plan passed by the Senate and the House, but the legislatos are attempting to settle their differences before they recess for the summer in just two weeks. The prior emergency aid approved for the district will expire on June 30.

The House bill also outlines the need for a school board election in November. The Senate had asked for a commission to make determinations concerning opening traditional and publicly funded charter schools in Detroit, but that request has been abandoned. The Senate idea was supported, however, by Mayor Mike Duggan of Detroit, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, some GOP senators, business leaders, and others.

Rather than asking a commission to decide on schools that should be opened in the district, the current bill includes the appointment of an advisory board which will publish reports describing where schools are needed in Detroit.

DPS is currently considered one of the worst-performing school districts of its size in the US. Over 50% of the students in Detroit attend charter or suburban schools, causing critics to opine that charter schools have been allowed to open without regulation and have contributed to lowering the quality of DPS.

The governor reiterated that he supports the creation of the Detroit Education Commission, but added that the concept had been updated. He added that there was mutual compromise surrounding paying down the enormous debt and restoring control to the school board.

MLive Media Group quoted Duggan’s response to the updated Detroit Education Commission:

“I never thought I’d see the day that you would have Lansing pass a bill governing the future of the Detroit schools, where every single Detroit legislator voted against it,” said Duggan.

“The state of Michigan has dictated the schools in Detroit since 2009 … At some point, it’s just not right to keep imposing solutions on Detroit schools from Lansing that have no support from Detroiters.”

A group that promotes charter schools, the Great Lakes Education Project, is against the creation of a city-appointed commission to manage charters. The group’s director, Gary Naeyaert, said parents and families are the best people to decide on the educational opportunities that meet the needs of their children.

Naeyaert continued by saying that his organization wants to work with Mayor Duggan on holding schools accountable, closing schools that are failing, and creating schools where there are underserved children. He added that his group would work with Natasha Baker of the State School Reform Office to assist chronically failing schools.

According to Michigan Public Radio’s Steve Carmody, Interim Detroit Federation of Teachers President Ivy Bailey and American Federation of Teachers Michigan President David Hecker said:

“The initial Senate bill gained community, business and bipartisan support because its intention is to improve education for Detroit children. That is clearly not the intention of this bill, which is a recipe for disaster and seeks to dismantle public education in Detroit. It is not a solution.

The package will now return to the Senate for deliberation.