LANSING (AP) — 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.
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.
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 said the supplemental funding does not lessen the need for a long-term solution to bring financial stability and better academics to the district — an overhaul he first called for nearly 11 months ago.
The Senate approved a broader plan earlier this week. But House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, said Thursday he has “a lot of concerns” with a proposed education commission whose permission would be needed to open some new traditional and publicly funded charter schools. There would be an “inherent motivation to hamper charters” to limit how long the district is under financial oversight, he said.
About 36,000 students living in Detroit attend charter academies in the city, and 26,000 go to traditional public schools or charters in the suburbs.
Snyder, who supports the Senate proposal, said: “I’m confident the Legislature will continue its bipartisan focus on helping Detroit students succeed and we will get there soon.”
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