Senate OKs bill to give tuition help in Flint

Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Flint students would receive help with tuition for college or university in the city under legislation the state Senate overwhelmingly approved Thursday.

Staff from bill sponsor Sen. Jim Ananich’s office said they hope the amount of tax revenue captured in Flint by the proposed legislation would be enough to provide help for at least an associate’s degree at a higher education institution in the city.

The amount of tuition aid, though, they said, depends on how much tax revenue is captured from Tax Increment Financing, a complicated method to divert a certain portion of tax revenue for a specific purpose, in this case for tuition help.

The legislation would allow students who graduated from a high school in the city to get help for an associate’s degree by making the city a designated “promise zone” like ones in other Michigan school districts.

The Senate passed another bill Thursday to create a Flint “recovery authority” — a group of city-appointed officials who would oversee the city’s long-term recovery following its lead-tainted water contamination crisis.

Flint Sen. Jim Ananich, a Democrat, sponsored the two bills and says the city needs a body of officials separate from Flint’s City Council who will oversee that recovery effort because council members and legislators change as term limits approach or other officials are elected.

Ananich said Flint needs the new “recovery authority” to ensure the city emerges from the damage dealt by state officials’ failure to include corrosion control chemicals in Flint’s water following the April 2014 switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River.

The city has since switched back to Detroit’s system with water from Lake Huron.

“We need to provide more hope for young people in Flint, and a Promise Zone does just that,” Ananich said in a statement. “With this in place, college affordability will be one less barrier for our kids, and they’ll have an opportunity to get the education and training they deserve.”

The legislation now advances to the House for consideration.

The recovery authority would be modeled after the Detroit’s Public Lighting Authority, including in Flint an 11-member board appointed by the Flint mayor, City Council and governor who would have to include one licensed or registered health professional, one civil engineer, one certified public accountant and one educational professional, according to the legislation.

The authority could receive dollars from foundations, private organizations or the city, state or federal government. It could also collect a tax of up to 0.5 mills on local property, if approved by Flint voters, or borrow money and issue revenue bonds.

The two bills were included as recommendations in a new report released Wednesday that outlines 36 policy recommendations to help Flint recover and other cities avoid similar fates in the future. The report recommended an overhaul to the state’s emergency manager law and replacing all of the state’s lead service lines carrying public water.