Flint ‘promise zone’ college tuition plan wins approval

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Flint and up to four other Michigan communities with high child poverty rates could become “promise zones” to provide local students with tuition-free college under legislation sent Wednesday to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk.

The Michigan Senate approved the bill in a 35-2 vote, signing off on a final plan the House expanded to include communities beyond Flint, where Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and Consumers Energy have pledged $2 million for the college tuition program.

Promise zones initially rely on private contributions but after two years can capture half of the annual growth in local State Education Tax collections.

The pending promise zone will provide “hope” to Flint families that stayed through the crisis, said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, who sponsored the measure and said he expects the program to generate near $5 million in private contributions.

“Their children are going to have an opportunity to go to a trade school, community college or university tuition-free,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really big opportunity for families in Flint.”

A 2009 Michigan law allowed the creation of promise zones in up to 10 Michigan communities with above average rates of childhood poverty. Current participants include Detroit, Pontiac and Saginaw.

The legislation would allow promise zones in Flint and other communities that had been on a waiting list since 2009, including the River Rouge School District near Detroit.

Ananich and Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, had long advocated for promise zone expansion.

“I’ve got it in two of my districts, and it’s just been an amazing transformation for those schools,” said Hansen, referencing promise zones in Muskegon and Newaygo counties.

“The kids are going to college, and hopefully they’re going to graduate and be part of the solution.”