Michigan lawmakers voted Thursday to extend $48.7 million in emergency aid to keep Detroit's ailing school district open for the rest of the academic year and avoid the prospect of payless paydays for staff.
The Republican-led Legislature approved the spending on votes of 104-4 in the House and 29-7 in the Senate after negotiators reached an agreement on oversight of the Detroit Public Schools' money. Gov. Rick Snyder, who plans to sign the legislation, said it was "critically important" that it pass.
Thursday was the deadline for lawmakers to act before their spring break. The district's state-appointed manager has said without the aid, it would be unable to pay employees for work they do after April 8, four days before legislators will return to Lansing.
The $48.7 million is a stopgap measure while the GOP governor presses legislators to enact a $720 million restructuring plan to split the district and pay off $515 million in operating debt over a decade. The 46,000-student district has been under state financial management for seven years and is burdened with declining enrollment and low morale that has led to teacher "sick-outs" in recent months.
About 36,000 students living in Detroit attend publicly funded charter schools in the city, and 26,000 go to traditional public schools or charters in the suburbs.
The spending legislation is tied to a bill that would provide that a commission made up largely of state appointees — already in existence to review the city's finances after bankruptcy — be required to sign off on the district's budgets once it is no longer under emergency management. The school superintendent and school board chair would be added to the nine-member panel to vote on matters related to the district. That measure won approval on 95-13 and 26-10 votes.
Detroit lawmakers have some concerns about the commission.
“It is an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. Why are we putting a financial review commission in place to oversee the state emergency manager? It is time to return control to a locally elected school board,” said Rep. Brian Banks (D-Detroit).
“They will be making sure that this money we are providing DPS over the next couple of months is spent properly, that there is no waste, fraud or abuse,” said Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth).
“It is continuing to send a message to the people of Detroit that we can’t handle our own affairs, when in fact the deficit was caused under state control,” said Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit).
Republicans and Democrats all agree the short term solution is good for Detroit kids.
“Now I know I don’t have anything to worry about. I am going to graduate on time,” said Alessandra Alvarez-Paines, a senior at MLK High School in Detroit Public Schools.
“It is so important that we keep these schools open,” said Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit)
Ivy Bailey, interim president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers — the union for city teachers — applauded the Legislature for putting the "best interests of students first" while work continues on the broader rescue package.
Snyder released this statement:
“I appreciate the Legislature working quickly this week to approve funding that will keep the students who attend Detroit Public Schools in their classrooms through the end of the school year. The kids of Detroit need to be in school and learning if they are to have a brighter future, and the bipartisan support for this funding shows how important the issue is to everyone. This supplemental funding doesn’t change the fact that a long-term legislative solution is still needed to bring about fiscal stability and responsibility as well as improved academic outcomes within DPS. I’m confident the Legislature will continue its bipartisan focus on helping Detroit students succeed and we will get there soon. ”