Senate passes legislation for Detroit Public Schools

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.

Meekhof comments on sick outs

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, issued the following statement regarding the closure of more than 80 Detroit schools today:

“Today’s actions by the teachers of Detroit Public Schools is irresponsible and counterproductive to finding a solution for Detroit’s parents and students.  The Senate has actively worked to present and pass a comprehensive plan for 47,000 students in need of quality education options.  My colleagues and I are looking for partners, not adversaries.

This ‘sick out’ amounts to a strike.  Thousands of children woke up this morning to find they could not go to school and thousands of parents scrambled to rearrange work schedules and care for their children.  This act by the Detroit teachers’ union puts families in turmoil.

When Detroit teachers choose to strike it is children who suffer the most.  This action makes the likelihood of reaching a long-term solution for DPS more challenging.  The families who rely upon DPS continue to be let down by the union.”

Meekhof comments on DPS indictments

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today issued the following statement regarding news of indictments for former and current Detroit Public School administrators:

“The alleged actions of former and current principals in Detroit Public Schools are unacceptable.  This is further evidence of the need for reform and oversight of the schools in Detroit.  I’ll be working with my colleagues in the House to strengthen the DPS legislation passed by the Senate in light of this development.  If proven true, adults are literally robbing children of an education. It is criminal and immoral.”

Senate passes comprehensive plan for Detroit students

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, today issued the following statement upon the passage of a plan for Detroit Public Schools.

“Today, the Senate passed a comprehensive, bipartisan plan for the students and parents of Detroit Public Schools.  The students and parents of DPS have gone too long without a reliable education system.  Without action, we risk a generation of students who will enter adulthood without an adequate education.

There are roughly 47,000 students in Detroit Public Schools and these children have spent too much time in an education system that is failing them.  The debt load of DPS requires intervention.

The legislation passed today addresses the debt load, provides opportunity for a revitalized community school district, returns the district to a locally elected school board, requires financial and budgetary oversight of tax dollars and relies on an independent board of education and community stakeholders to follow a rational system for opening and closing schools.

Furthermore, this legislation upholds education choice. Many Detroit parents have already demonstrated an interest in education choice by electing to send their kids to schools outside DPS.  Parents and students in Detroit deserve access to quality education choices.

Resolving the debt crisis in Detroit Public Schools now ensures that no student in Michigan will see a reduction in funding because of an insolvent DPS.  Bankruptcy would be an expensive and lengthy process that deals with the problems created by adults, but neglects the education needs of the kids.

Legislation on this grand a scale comes down to compromise.  Give and take from both parties was necessary in order to craft a comprehensive solution.  Republicans and Democrats came together to find a solution for 47,000 students and to prevent the rest of our schools from experiencing financial strain as a result of inaction,” said Meekhof.

Under the Senate-passed plan, the school district will be divided into the old DPS and a new community district. Governance of the district will be vested in a fully elected local school board in August 2016.  The current transition manager will oversee the district until the elected board takes office.  The elected board will appoint the first district superintendent.

The Senate plan provides approximately $200 million in transition funds to form the new community district.  An additional $515 million will be appropriated to fund the education needs and operation of the new community district.

The existing financial review commission which already oversees the finances of the City of Detroit, will also have oversight of the finances of the community district.  Two additional members will be added to the financial review commission to have input on the school district only.  Those two members will be the superintendent and school board president.

The legislation also includes an education commission, appointed by the mayor, which will be responsible for providing recommendations for siting and opening schools.

Schools within the community district will be assigned a grade of A, B, C, D, E or F.  High performing schools can replicate without approval of the education commission.  Those schools graded in the middle will seek approval from the commission.  Failing schools may be closed or subject to intervention.

The package is comprised on Senate Bills 710, 711, 819, 820, 821 and 822.

More information on the legislation can be found via the Michigan legislature’s website at www.legislature.mi.gov.

 

Meekhof releases statement on Snyder Administration emails

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, released a brief statement regarding the release of emails from the Governor’s office:

“These emails provide some insight into how individuals in the Administration were responding to the problems in Flint.

The primary goal of the Senate remains finding solutions so that nothing like this happens again.  It is clear that there is more information that should be considered in our plans to help the residents of Flint and protect communities throughout Michigan.  The Joint Committee on Flint will be meeting in the coming weeks to begin a review of this situation.”

New joint committee to review Flint water crisis

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter today announced the creation of the Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency to review the findings surrounding the Flint water crisis, take testimony on the mistakes at all levels of government that led to this situation and explore potential policy solutions to prevent a similar disaster in the future.

The committee is made up of three members from each chamber of the Legislature, with Sen. Jim Stamas as Chair and Rep. Ed McBroom and Sen. Jim Ananich as co-vice chairs.  Majority Leader Meekhof and Speaker Cotter both accepted the recommendations for Democratic representation from their Democratic counterparts.

“No Michigan citizen should be concerned about contaminated water,” said Majority Leader Meekhof, R-West Olive.  “The families and children of Flint deserve better from government—all government.  This committee will provide the opportunity and the forum to review the causes of the crisis in Flint, ensure effective use of resources to help residents and use what we learn to prevent a similar experience in any other community.

“Senator Ananich and I have had many conversations about how the Senate can work to address the concerns of the families in Flint.  I look forward to our continued dialogue and to the work of this committee in offering solutions for the citizens and families of Flint and families across Michigan.”

“What happened in Flint is a tragedy, and the people who are affected deserve answers,” said Speaker Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant.  “People were hurt by widespread government failures, and changes need to be made as soon as possible.  I am committed to doing everything I can to provide answers and prevent future disasters.

“This new committee will allow us to work together to review the investigative findings from this crisis and build solutions that help this community move forward.  The Auditor General and others are doing important work investigating what went wrong, and I look forward to taking their work and doing what we can to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

The new committee will include the following members:

The Joint Committee on the Flint Water Public Health Emergency:

House
Senate
  • Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan – Vice Chair
  • Rep. Ed Canfield, R-Sebewaing
  • Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor
  • Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland – Chair
  • Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg
  • Sen. Jim Ananich, D-Flint – Vice Chair

Meekhof comments on FY 2017 budget presentation

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING— Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, issued the following statement today regarding Gov. Snyder’s fiscal year 2017 budget presentation:

“The Governor’s budget plan reflects many Senate Republican priorities.  Over the course of the past several years, we have made progress in Michigan by adopting policies and laws that fostered economic turnaround and prosperity for Michigan families.

Unfortunately, recent failures at all levels of government have resulted in the spotlight once again being turned on our state.  In the coming months, the Senate Republicans pledge to work with the Governor, leadership in the House and our colleagues on the other side of the aisle through the budget process to bring additional aide to Flint.  The Senate has already worked to pass more than $60 million in relief for Flint residents, but there is more work to be done.  The crisis in Flint points to the need for a statewide dialogue about maintaining and improving infrastructure so that our citizens have confidence in all levels of government to help deliver basic needs like safe water.  I am currently reviewing options for a statewide infrastructure plan for all communities.

The Senate Government Operations Committee will continue to hold hearings on the education and financial crisis in Detroit Public Schools.  In order for 47,000 children to receive a basic education, the state will work to resolve more than $500 million in debt.  I am encouraged by the Governor’s proposed solution for how to deal with the balance sheet and I am eager to continue to work on how to best reform the district so that the students of DPS have a reliable and sound education plan.

Over the course of the past few years, the Senate Republicans have supported more than $1 billion in increased funding for all students and we will continue to build upon our commitment to education in the next budget year.  Increases to the foundation allowance are necessary to ensure more dollars enter the classroom to improve every child’s education experience.  I am encouraged by the Governor’s commitment to continue to pay down retirement and benefit costs so that dollars are not siphoned out of the classroom, but instead are available for learning tools and classroom supplies.

My colleagues and I in the Senate have made commonsense career paths a priority.  The Governor’s desire to increase funding for universities and community colleges as well as money for technical and vocational training supports the Senate Republicans belief that education should be a pathway for each student to achieve his or her personal career goals.

The Governor’s plan echoes the Senate Republicans’ commitment to Michigan families by increasing funding for Healthy Kids Dental and providing additional resources for clothing allowances to better meet the needs of our most vulnerable children and families. Additional resources to increase public safety through the hiring of additional troopers and funds to deliver prescription medicines are in keeping with the Senate Republicans desire to keep our citizens safe and healthy.

The budget presentation begins a collaborative process between the legislature and the Governor.  The Senate will take time to review the specifics of this plan, communicate with our constituents, and begin the deliberative process of working through the budget and working with the House and the Governor to deliver a comprehensive plan for Michigan well in advance of our October 1st deadline.”

 

Senate approves $30 million for Flint residents

LANSING—The Senate took action today on legislation to provide $30 million to credit the residents of Flint for payment of their water bills since April 2014.

“Multiple levels of government have failed the people of Flint and the result is our citizens being exposed to contaminated water.  It simply does not make sense that we would expect the people of this community to pay for water they cannot drink.  I believe that swift action today is reasonable and necessary,” said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.

“The Senate has repeatedly responded to the outcry of the citizens of Flint.  First to reconnect to Detroit Water, then to provide resources for emergency action and relief and now to credit those people who have been responsible citizens and paid their water bills even when their drinking water was at risk.  I will continue to work with my colleagues through the budget process to pursue a long-term solution to the crisis in Flint.

Again, this was a failure at multiple levels of government and I expect those governments to join with the Michigan Senate in the pursuit of solutions,” said Meekhof.

Senate Bill 136 appropriates $30 million in the current fiscal year to the Department of Treasury to provide relief for water bills for residents in the city of Flint.  The bill requires the Department of Treasury to make quarterly reports to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees on distribution of the funds.

The bill next goes to the Michigan House of Representatives for consideration.

Text of the legislation is available via the Michigan Legislature website at www.legislature.mi.gov.

 

Meekhof issues statement following State of the State address

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, tonight issued the statement below following Governor Snyder’s State of the State address:

“I commend Governor Snyder for his attention to the public health crisis in Flint.  As a father and a grandfather, I am dismayed by the failures that resulted in this crisis and the risk it poses to the children of this community.  The families of Flint deserve our full attention and the Senate is ready to assist the Governor to address these concerns.

The crisis in Flint demonstrates a need for greater accountability and reforms to our state government systems.  Bloated, unresponsive bureaucracy does not meet the needs of our citizens.  Over the past few years the Senate Republicans have worked to improve state government, but clearly there is more work to be done.  The citizens of Michigan deserve a responsive, competent team of employees and administrators that value accountability, safety and customer service above red tape.

The job of government at all levels is to respond to constituents.  As the customer complaint window for state government, legislative offices hear from citizens day-in and day-out who need help navigating bureaucracy.  The Senate Republicans are eager to pursue ways to improve state government and ensure safety and accountability for our citizens. Like many people throughout our state and the country, I look forward to hearing more about a solution for the people of Flint.

This year, the Senate is poised to tackle reform of our state’s largest school district.  The children of Detroit have spent too much time in an education system that does not give them the tools necessary to be successful adults and citizens.  The bottom line is, the families in Detroit and across Michigan deserve access to quality education choices.

The Senate, House, Governor, city leadership, elected officials, education professionals, community stakeholders, and parents must all share in the responsibility of reforming Detroit Public Schools.  While the legislature can work to resolve the balance sheet, the active participation of the citizens and leaders of Detroit is critical to the long-term success of the students and the vitality of the city’s neighborhoods.

Detroit’s turnaround will be for not if the children of that great city do not graduate high school, are not prepared for learning at our universities and are not competitive in today’s job market.

The challenges in Detroit Public Schools are not entirely unique to that district.  Many school districts are burdened by financial stress and a changing educational environment.  My colleagues and I in the Senate will look more closely at potential reforms related to legacy costs.  No student should be short-changed of dollars entering the classroom because of an unsustainable retirement system and mounting debt.

These major issues bring about larger questions about system failures.  The Governor has not shied away from tackling the tough issues facing our state and his remarks tonight demonstrate accountability and forward action to help the citizens of Flint and Michigan.

The Senate Republicans are prepared for another year of working with the Governor, our colleagues in the House and members on the other side of the aisle to continue to improve Michigan and reform state government.”

Meekhof comments on changes at DEQ

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof

LANSING—Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, this afternoon issued the following statement regarding changes at the Department of Environmental Quality.

“When it comes to state government, legislators are the customer service center for our constituents. We hear directly from our citizens when government fails to meet their expectations.

Changes at the Department of Environmental Quality represent an opportunity to strike a balance between preserving and protecting Michigan’s natural resources and upholding the rights of citizens and property owners.  Competent directors are essential for state government to function properly. Ultimately, the responsibility of every department is to meet the needs of constituents.

The Senate looks forward to welcoming a strong director who will improve the functions and operations of the Department of Environmental Quality and be responsive to our citizens.  As majority leader, I will use the Advice and Consent process to thoroughly review a prospective director candidate.”