DETROIT – Michigan lawmakers approved a $617 million education package today that will prevent Detroit Public Schools from going into bankruptcy, create a new locally elected school board, and set up the framework to pull the chronically failing and broke district out of the ashes.
Democrats and union officials, however, don’t think it’s good enough.
“If you do this, you are systematically destroying” Detroit Public Schools, Highland Park Sen. Bert Johnson said shortly before his colleagues voted to approve the deal.
“Policies don’t work when they’re jammed down the throats of people,” he said, according to The Detroit News.
The Detroit Federation of Teachers promoted a MoveOn.org petition on its website Thursday that calls the DPS bailout “punitive, petty and dangerous for the people of Detroit,” and urges Gov. Rick Snyder to veto the measure, CNN reports.
“The fact that these bills target only Detroit with unpopular and untested education experiments and anti-union measures shows this is not about what’s best for the children of Detroit – it’s about how the Michigan House can exert power over the people of Detroit,” the statement read.
The bailout, which is expected to be signed by Snyder, passed both chambers of the Michigan legislature on party line votes, and provides a total of $617 million for Detroit schools – $467 million to help DPS pay off its debt and another $150 million to transition to a debt-free Detroit Community Schools, according to the News.
The old school district will continue to exist to pay off debts, but the new district will be headed by a school board to be elected locally in November. Since 2009, DPS has been under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, and a locally elected school board was one of the demands from city’s teachers who repeatedly walked out on students in protest throughout the 2015-16 school year.
“This work represents a fresh start with more money in the classrooms for Detroit’s students, career stability for Detroit’s teachers, and fiscal accountability for all Michigan taxpayers,” Snyder said in a statement Thursday. “This is a new day for education in Michigan’s comeback city.”
But Democrats and their union supporters are disappointed by the final deal because competing legislation crafted in the state Senate would have provided $200 million in transition costs to the new district, and would have given a mayor-appointed board authority over where charter schools are placed in the city, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The legislation that was approved, the state House version, did not give the charter oversight board decision-making authority, and provided only $150 million in transition costs.
School choice advocates argued against the oversight board because local officials in many school districts actively limit charter school approvals and placements under pressure from teachers unions that despise the nonunionized schools.
“This represents a realistic compromise for a path to the future,” Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said. “At the end of the day, our responsibility is to solve the problem.
“Without legislative action, the Detroit Public Schools would head toward bankruptcy, which would cost billions of dollars and cost every student in every district of Michigan.”