The first two bills dealing with Detroit schools were introduced Thursday by Sen. Geoff Hansen – SB 710 and SB 711. Both bills were sent to the Government Operations Committee. We expect the first committee hearings to be held by the end of January.

AFT Michigan President David Hecker released the following statement about the bills:

The legislation introduced today falls far short of the vision of the Coalition for the Future of Detroit School Children, whose recommendations are what our schoolchildren need enacted. Detroit must have an elected and empowered school board, not one that will have no real power until the debt is totally paid off. Detroit must have a Detroit Education Commission that can bring coherence to systems where 14 different entities open and close schools without any coordination, verified certificate of need or regard to the overall financial stability of public schools. While there is a framework for paying the Detroit Public Schools debt created under state control, there is no dedicated source of funding identified.

While it appears that EAA schools return to DPS we have numerous questions as to what form that will take. And we are deeply concerned that after the President and Congress, in bi-partisan effort, rewrote the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to remove the over emphasis on standardized tests and punitive ‘solutions’ for schools in need of help, that this legislation does not move forward in ways that support instruction and address the impact of poverty on a child’s education.

The schoolchildren of Detroit deserve better. There is a growing unification of teachers, school staff, parents, elected officials, faith and community leaders coming together to fight for the future of the students of Detroit. We look forward to continuing to work with the Coalition, Mayor Duggan, State Superintendent Whiston, the community, the Detroit legislative delegation and elected officials from both parties to do what is right for our students.

Below, please find a summary of the bills as they were introduced, along with a number of things the bills do not address. We will continue to provide you with updates as the bills change through the legislative process.

SB 710: This bill creates a “community district” to assume operation of Detroit Public Schools. DPS would remain as a separate entity to collect the 18 mills of non-homestead property taxes and use that money to pay off the debt over time, which would likely take about 7-10 years. After that point, DPS would be entirely dissolved. While DPS is paying off the debt and after the debt is completely retired, the new entity, likely called some variation of the “Detroit Community School District” would operate the schools. All property, contracts and employees will be transferred to the new district. The legislation specifies that all people entitled to employment in DPS will be entitled to employment in DCDS.

Beginning in June, the DCDS would be governed by an appointed school board, made up of 5 gubernatorial appointees and 4 mayoral appointees, with the board president being selected by the mayor. In November of 2016, an election would be held for all 9 seats – 7 determined by city district and 2 at-large. The elected board would take control in January 2017 and would oversee both the operation of the DCDS and oversee the DPS debt repayment. The DCDS would also be subject to review of the Financial Review Commission for the City of Detroit. The bill also allows the DCDS board to create an “advisory board” made up of community stakeholders, including charter schools and labor organizations to offer input and advice to the DCDS board – there is no real power and no real teeth to this entity. There is also a provision which requires how the DCDS board must evaluate the performance of the district, which is based primarily on student test scores.

SB 711: This bill creates the Financial Review Commission which will oversee and must approve the financial decisions of the DCDS, as well as approve the board’s chief financial officer and superintendent appointments. In addition to the members of the Financial Review Commission of the city, the superintendent and the board president of the DCDS will serve as FRC members.

There is no identified source to fund the debt repayment: We still don’t know where the money will come from to pay off the $515 million in debt the state has accumulated on behalf of DPS. At the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference Thursday January 14, State Budget Director John Roberts said he and other members of the Snyder administration are still considering options for a funding source. Several parties have resisted the idea of using School Aid Fund dollars to pay for the Detroit debt, but Roberts said the following: “What we are trying to debate to the Legislature is: is it offsetting costs to the School Aid Fund so their schools don’t see a negative effect, or is it actually not using the School Aid Fund? And what I think they are asking for is they don’t want schools to see an effect.” Roberts said there will be a presentation on the funding source in February.

What’s missing:

  • There is no Detroit Education Commission component which would rationalize the educational landscape by placing limitations of the opening and siting of new schools in the city, nor is there any system in place to offer common enrollment or coordinated transportation.
  • There is nothing to address the needs for improving academic performance through instructional and social supports or wrap around services.
  • There is no direct mention that the receivership of DPS will end and the Emergency Manager will be removed.