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Detroit schools bill faces skeptical Senate, outrage among education activists

Michigan state Capitol
Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0
Michigan State Capitol Building

A set of Republican-sponsored bills to fund and overhaul the Detroit Public Schools is being met with skepticism in the state Senate. The state House adopted the legislation in a marathon session that lasted until early this morning.

“This is the right plan to fix Detroit’s schools and give the city a good, working school system for the long-term,” said state House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Clemens. “The people of Michigan want assurances that this incredible investment in the district will be used well and protected. The House Republican plan delivers that protection and includes serious reforms to ensure every dollar will be used effectively and efficiently.”

The House Republican plan delivers that protection and includes serious reforms to ensure every dollar will be used effectively and efficiently.”

But the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate – which has its own proposal that has bipartisan support. Key differences include how much money the state would pony up; when control of the district is restored to an elected school board; and how to handle charter schools in the city.



“We have to go back to the drawing table, to pull together the different factions to have conversations about this,” said State Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights. “The problem’s not going away. We have to show some leadership here, and get this done for the kids of Detroit.”

In Detroit, the response from education activists was much less measured. Tonya Allen of Detroit’s Skillman Foundation called the legislation an “attack … on children, teachers, Detroit, and public education.”

“We’re basically saying that Detroit children don’t deserve highly qualified, professional staff in their classrooms. And that is ridiculous,” she said.

Allen blasted some controversial provisions in the House bill – like clauses that limit teachers’ collective bargaining rights, and allow uncertified teachers in classrooms. She says if the House bills make it to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk, he should veto them.

The next stop for the legislation is the Republican-led Senate. That chamber’s Republican leader, Arlan Meekhof, says he wants to examine the House bills more closely.

“Well they put it together relatively quickly, in 15 hours and we’ve got to unpack it, a lot of stuff,” he said. “What I want to do is make sure it’s funded at a level and done in a way that we don’t come back to it.”

The school district is set to run out of money at the end of June. Detroit schools have been run by state-appointed managers for the past eight years.  

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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