May 5, 2016 / 10:41 AM / 3 years ago

Michigan lawmakers push forward $500 mln package for Detroit schools

(Reuters) - The Michigan House of Representatives approved on Thursday a $500 million spending package for Detroit’s cash-strapped schools, which could run out of money to pay employees at the end of June.

Downtown Detroit is seen from a vacant lot, looking south along Woodward Avenue. REUTERS/ Rebecca Cook

The legislation, which still needs approvals from the state Senate and Governor Rick Snyder, was passed early Thursday morning after hundreds of Detroit teachers called in sick over paycheck concerns. The move closed nearly all of the district’s 97 schools on Monday and Tuesday.

Detroit school teachers returned to their classrooms on Wednesday following the “sick-out” after receiving assurances from officials that they will be paid for their work.

The Detroit public school system, or DPS, has nearly 46,000 students. It has been under state control since 2009 because of a financial emergency.

“This is the right plan to fix Detroit’s schools and give the city a good, working school system for the long term,” said House Speaker Kevin Cotter in a statement.

The DPS, the state’s largest public school system, will run out of money to pay employees after the fiscal year ends on June 30, the school system’s state-appointed transition manager, former federal bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, has said.

The spending package, which provides $500 million in aid to the school district, is less than the $715 million requested by Republican Governor Snyder and approved by the Republican-controlled Senate as part of a different plan.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the city, state and national teachers’ unions called the legislation “some of the most despicable anti-student, anti-public school, anti-teacher provisions we’ve seen in America.” They called on Snyder to veto the bill passed by the Republican-controlled House if it reached his desk.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat, said in a statement that previous state Senate bills aimed at funding the schools were “a thoughtful attempt,” but the House legislation will repeat past mistakes that included a lack of clear planning.

Republican state Senator Goeff Hansen, lead negotiator on the Senate bills, said in a statement he had serious concerns with many aspects of the House legislation, but would work toward a bipartisan solution that he said must include compromise.

Hansen spokesman Peter Wills said in an email that a schedule for reconciling the Senate and House bills has not been set.

Rhodes called the passage of the legislation “an important step in the right direction” and said he supported talks between the House and Senate to resolve their differences.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Karen Pierog in Chicago and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and James Dalgleish

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