State lawmakers and the public could get their first look today at legislation to overhaul the Detroit Public Schools.
The district faces hundreds of millions of dollars of debt and a possible default if something isn’t done very soon. That has implications for every taxpayer in Michigan because the state is on the hook for at least some of those costs if the district can’t carry them.
State Senator Geoff Hansen (R-Hart) is in charge of the Senate K-through-12 budget subcommittee. He says there are a lot of things to do, but tackling the debt is Job One. “The debt is a priority because it’s an emergency situation,” he says. “Detroit schools are looking at, I believe, April where they could run out of money.”
But outstate Republicans remain skeptical of the cost and what it might mean to other schools around the state. House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) says Detroit teacher “sickouts” could make it harder to wrangle votes for a rescue plan, but that’s not definitely the case. “It’s certainly not helping anything, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s counterproductive,” he says.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have questions and concerns. Detroit Democrats want assurances control of the district will be returned to a locally elected school board. That’s following seven years of being run by a state-appointed emergency manager.
Representative Harvey Santana (D-Detroit) says the city’s schools need a lot more than debt management. “I cannot put up a vote to send all this taxpayer money to Detroit unless I see a larger, more-comprehensive plan to deal with the issues that are walking into schools with these kids.”
Governor Rick Snyder called for the Detroit schools overhaul last year, saying the debt is keeping resources from reaching classrooms.