Detroit lawmakers blast DPS funding plan

Posted at 6:31 PM, May 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-05 18:31:45-04

Around 4:30 Thursday morning, the State House passed legislation that provides hundreds of millions of dollars for Detroit Public Schools. Those behind it say it is a rescue package. Many in Detroit disagree.

The vote came after a marathon session of more than 15 hours. With no support from the Democrats, Republicans battled within their own party with the goal of getting enough votes to pass the bills.

Why is it so partisan? There are several reasons.

Democrats disagree with the fact the legislation allows noncertified teachers only in Detroit. Proponents say that will help address the teacher shortage. The teacher's union says the real goal is to lower the wages or value of teachers in the district. 

When you look at another aspect of the plan, you can see why they would feel that way. 

The bills would create two school districts. The current district would exist to pay down debt. A new district would educate children. 

When the new "Detroit Community Schools District" is formed, it would not have to honor the collective bargaining agreements of the old district.

"We have teachers calling us upset, not knowing if they are going to have a job after this year," said Terrance Martin of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

It also delays local control. There wouldn't be an elected school board in the first year. 

"Our children have been in schools under the control of emergency managers non-stop since 2008. This is not fair to our children," said Rep Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit).

There is also disagreement on how much money is needed. The House refused to act on a Senate plan that would provide Detroit Public Schools with about $700 million to restructure and address debt.

Instead it created its own plan to provide about $500 million to address debt.

The mayor of Detroit was in Lansing until about 2:00 a.m. trying to convince lawmakers to provide more funding. He didn't succeed. He also wanted legislation that would create a commission to oversee when and where charter and public schools open and close.

Right now, in the city there are some neighborhoods with no schools, and others with so many schools, enrollment numbers make the schools hard to maintain. This happens as charter schools open unrestricted, and without coordination with public schools. 

The mayor says, since they are funded with tax dollars, they should have oversight like hospitals and utilities do. They should create healthy competition, but not open in a way that floods the market.

He didn’t succeed with that proposal.

The mayor said the state is leaving the district in worse condition than it was when the state took over control years ago. His message to the state: You broke it, you fix it.

"The state made a tragic mistake about 7 years ago when they took control of Detroit Public Schools. What they did with these bills is throw up their arms and say we don't have an answer," said Mayor Mike Duggan. "If all you do is throw up your arms and say we know we devastated your schools for the last 7 years, and you lost half the children, and you now have a huge deficit, but we don’t have an answer - here take it back with no reform. That's not fair to our children."

"Really! $500 million won't make a difference?" asked Rep. Al Pscholka (R-79th District).

Pscholka said teachers should not feel the legislation is an attack on them. The bill also creates merit pay if students can show progress. Teachers fear that will lead to teachers "teaching to the test."

“This package of bills resolves the financial problems faced by DPS without affecting funding for school districts across the state and allows for every tool available to improve the DPS students’ education,” said Rep. Daniela Garcia, vice chair of the House Committee on Education. “For decades, students in Detroit have not received an adequate education and the result is the worst academic achievement in the nation. This bill package ensures that schools that are consistently the lowest achieving are shut down and will no longer fail Detroit students. There are no more excuses.”

The House plan still needs approval from the Senate, which already approved a different plan that the House refused to act on.