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State senate approves reforms, bailout for Detroit Public Schools

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   The state Senate has approved a plan for a financial bailout of the Detroit school system.

The bills not only help pay off a crushing debt burden, they also return control of the district to a locally-elected school board, and give a second, appointed board the power to close low-performing schools – including charter academies.

But the bill package didn’t go far enough to satisfy some Democrats. And the sheer size of the payout - the package is expected to cost more than $715 million - and the control over charters was too much for some Republicans.

“I’m happy it’s gotten this far, but we’re far from done,” says Republican state Senator Geoff Hansen, who helped pull the deal together.

Now the bills go the state House, as the clock ticks toward a practical deadline. The district is expected to run out of money in early April.

State Senator Bert Johnson of Detroit supported the bills. 

“It’s not perfect,” he says of the bill package that cleared the Senate. “It doesn’t contain everything we want. But the truth is we’ve gotten to a place where we’re having an adult discussion that is not over-marred by politics.”

But Detroit State Senator Coleman Young wouldn’t support the bills, saying the plan doesn’t ensure enough help for students.

“What good is it if we have all this power, all this ability, to be elected and serve in these seats if we see a glaring issue of children not having the basic tools they need to succeed?" says state Senator Young. "Forget college-bound. You’ve got 12th graders who can’t read!”

Most of the money for this plan would come from tobacco settlement funds. The state House is expected to take up the bills after the Legislature’s spring break.

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