Senate passes legislation for Detroit Public Schools

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Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today announced passage of a comprehensive plan to resolve the debt of Detroit Public Schools (DPS), provide funding for transition to a new community school district and return the school district to a locally elected school board.

“Many months of work and discussion resulted in the passage of a legislative compromise to reform Detroit Public Schools.  This package of bills resolves a half billion dollars in debt, provides resources necessary for DPS to transition to a new, debt-free district and returns the school district to a locally elected board at the earliest possible election date,” said Meekhof.

“Senator Hansen worked hard to present a thoughtful plan that garnered bipartisan support in the Senate, however, at the end of the day any solution for DPS must have the support of both the Senate and House and this latest plan represents a realistic compromise that will put the district on a path for the future,” said Meekhof.

“There are more than 45,000 students who depend upon DPS and deserve stable, quality education options.  This plan provides opportunity for the students and parents of Detroit,” said Meekhof.

The package of legislation separates the district into two entities: the old district to pay off the debt and a new community district to educate students.  The legislation provides $150 million in resources to transition to the new community school district.  Both the old school district and the new community school district will be subject to oversight by the same financial review commission in place for the City of Detroit.

Elections will be held in November 2016 for a new, seven-member school board.  The board members will take office in January 2017.

A six-member advisory council will be created and charged with developing siting and transportation recommendations for the new community school district.  The council will be comprised of three representatives from traditional schools and three representatives from the charter school community.

The legislation implements an A through F accountability system for all traditional and charter schools in the district starting in the 2017-2018 school year.  The current state School Reform Office will be responsible for those schools that receive an “F” for three consecutive years and will have the authority to close persistently failing schools.

“Without legislative action, Detroit Public Schools will head toward bankruptcy.  Bankruptcy of the state’s largest school district will cost billions of dollars and result in a funding cut for every student in every school district in Michigan,” said Meekhof.

The DPS reform package is comprised of House Bills 5383, 5384, 5387 and Senate Bills 711, 820 and 822.

House Bill 5384 creates the new community school district and provides for governance, an advisory council, an A through F accountability system and related reforms.

House Bill 5383 creates the community district education trust fund.

Senate Bill 711 provides for oversight of the district by the financial review commission.

Senate Bill 820 allows the school board president and superintendent to serve on the financial review commission and allows an emergency manager to serve as transition manager.

Senate Bill 822 allows for a loan of up to $150 million for transitional operating costs.

House Bill 5387 bolsters the procedures and penalties for illegal teacher strikes.

The Senate adopted an amendment to House Bill 5383 to hold the School Aid Fund harmless of any impact of interest accumulated on the debt.

In addition, House Bill 5384 was amended to treat failing charter schools and failing traditional schools the same when it comes to closure.

House Bill 5383 and 5384 will return to the House for concurrence votes.