Michigan House OKs $48.7M for Detroit schools

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
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Lansing — The Michigan House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved sending Detroit Public Schools $48.7 million in emergency aid to keep the doors open through June.

The lopsided 104-5 vote occurred after little debate as lawmakers are moving quickly to deliver the state’s largest school district cash to stave off a projected insolvency next month that could lead to payless paydays for teachers and shuttered schools.

The bill now heads to the state Senate, where Republican leaders have been pushing for Gov. Rick Snyder’s $715 million, 10-year plan to relieve DPS of debt and create a new debt-free school district.

“There’s still more work to be done in the overall package,” said House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. “This is not something that allows us to walk away from the DPS work, but rather gives some additional time to make sure we get it right.”

In a more narrow vote, the House voted 66-43 on a separate bill that would expand the scope of Detroit’s Financial Review Commission to include the city school district. Democrats largely opposed the bill.

The commission would be empowered to veto Detroit Public Schools budgets and approve the hiring and firing of a school superintendent.

“It’s a checker, checking the checker so we don’t end up in this situation again,” said Rep. Harvey Santana, D-Detroit.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder welcomed the House’s approval.

“While a long-term legislative fix is urgently needed to address the challenges that are holding Detroit students back, this $50 million supplemental is a key first step,” he said in a statement. “I also applaud efforts to expand the responsibilities of Detroit’s existing Financial Review Commission to oversee Detroit Public Schools, which is an important step in ensuring financial recovery.”

The Republican-controlled House moved quickly this week on the aid because the cash-strapped district estimates it can’t pay employees after April 8. That would conflict with a two-week spring break lawmakers plan to take starting March 25, adding urgency to their actions this week.

Rep. Sam Singh, D-East Lansing, said the rushed vote was necessary, despite the lack of a “comprehensive package” to overhaul Detroit schools.

“I don’t have a problem with that because we have a crisis we have to meet,” Singh said.

Detroit’s Financial Review Commission was created in 2014 at the end of the city’s bankruptcy as a stipulation for city pension funds to get $195 million in state tax dollars to help settle the case.

If approved by the Senate, the $48.7 million in immediate aid would be paid out of the state’s annual proceeds from a lawsuit settlement fund with tobacco companies.

No Republicans in the majority party spoke in favor or opposition to the legislation on the House floor.

Voting no on the aid for Detroit schools were Democratic Rep. Phil LaVoy of Monroe and freshmen GOP Reps. John Bizon of Battle Creek, Lee Chatfield of Lovering, Triston Cole of Mancelona and Aaron Miller of Sturgis.


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