Michigan House passes bailout package for Detroit schools
MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. – The Michigan House passed a state bailout and restructuring of Detroit's ailing school district Thursday under a compromise circulated to majority Republicans.
The bills, which were being drafted late Wednesday, 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, according to a summary of the proposal obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. An agenda showed the legislation on Thursday's schedule, but GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Rick Snyder's administration said no final agreement had yet been reached.
The House and Senate have passed different restructuring plans and are trying to resolve their differences before a summer adjournment in two weeks. Emergency aid previously approved for the district will run out by June 30.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said he would stop short of saying there is a deal until the legislation is finished, but added that negotiators were "a lot closer" on how much money is needed. The Senate had backed $200 million in spending to launch a new district, the House $33 million.
"There are still a lot of moving pieces on the table right now," he told the AP at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference.
The House bill 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 in the city would be dropped, despite that idea's support from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the Republican governor, key GOP senators, business leaders and others.
Instead, an advisory board would issue reports on where schools are needed in Detroit.
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.
Snyder said Wednesday he still supports the proposed Detroit Education Commission but called it a "newer concept," while there is common ground on paying down the massive debt and returning control to a school board.
The commission, as called for in the Senate plan, is opposed by school-choice advocates and House Republicans who say it would bolster traditional schools at the expense of charters. It was proposed more than a year ago and is billed as a way to better locate and promote higher-quality schools in a fragmented system with 14 separate charter authorizers.
"I just want to have a standard — that the good ones can grow but somebody actually deals with those that aren't performing. Is that an unreasonable thing to ask?" Duggan told a crowd on Mackinac Island.
But Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, said the commission is unnecessary and warned against exposing Detroit's education system to "city politics."
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