State House approves $617M for ailing Detroit schools

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) – The Michigan House narrowly approved a $617 million state bailout and restructuring plan for Detroit’s ailing school district Thursday night.

The legislation 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. The plan now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The House and Senate passed different restructuring plans earlier this year, and Thursday’s plan is a compromise between the two.

Democrats blasted the legislation because they say it does nothing to address root problems at the district and doesn’t have any mechanism to ensure charter schools are opening in the right areas of the city.

Ann Arbor Rep. Adam Zemke, a Democrat, said the legislation would hurt “a city of young black boys and girls.”

But Republican Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter praised the legislation and said it will keep the schools open, avoid bankruptcy for the district and make sure teachers are paid.

“This plan is a plan put forward to save education in Detroit,” Cotter said. “Not just an entity, but education in Detroit, and at the same time to avoid what would be disastrous bankruptcy.”

Emergency aid previously approved for the debt-ridden district will run out by June 30.

Under the plan, a Financial Review Commission would oversee the district. It would have the final say on when superintendents are fired and would approve operating budgets. Cotter called those responsibilities “accountability” measures to ensure tax money isn’t wasted.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said Thursday he and some other senators question if $150 million in transition funds is enough.

“We have to go and noodle that out. I want to make sure if we’re going to take the vote for that kind of money, we don’t have to come back and do it again,” he told the AP at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s annual Mackinac Policy Conference. He said $150 million is “probably the low end” of what is needed.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s spokesman Ari Adler said the governor and lawmakers are “getting toward a compromise” and Snyder is watching to see if the Senate also approves the legislation. He called the plan “good progress.”

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