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House R’s ram through its DPS plan after all-nighter

May 10, 2016

After 16 hours on the floor, four Republican caucuses and essentially two sessions, the House dragged its Detroit Public Schools (DPS) reform plan into passage at 4:28 a.m. As expected, the package passed with zero Democratic support and the bare minimum of 55 House votes on two of the six bills.

The plan is nearly identical to the package that moved Tuesday out of the House Appropriations Committee with the exception of tougher teacher strike language that is similar to legislation Sen. Phi Pavlov (R-St. Clair) is sponsoring. Those bills are sitting on the Senate floor with increased Republican caucus interest, according to a spokesperson earlier this week. 

With Detroit teachers closing nearly every Detroit school on Monday and Tuesday with their orchestrated sickout, House Republicans felt like a message needed to be sent. It certainly didn’t make Democrats, who didn’t like what Republicans had in mind anyway, happy. 

“My dad once said if you’re out at 4 a.m. nothing good can come of it,” House Minority Leader Sam Singh (D-East Lansing) began his speech in opposition. 

The Republicans added a provision that broadens who may initiate legal proceedings in response to a teacher strike to include parents and the state superintendent. It also shortens the timeframe in which state hearings over an alleged strike occur from 60 to two days. 

Republicans also removed the prohibition on collective bargaining over school calendar and work schedules. In addition, Republicans made all administrative employees’ jobs non-transferrable to the new district. In the version of HB 5384 reported out by the Appropriations Committee, only the superintendent and school principals were required to reapply to keep their jobs.  

Tensions between Republicans and Democrats in the House have ridden high all the way through the process. Early on, members on the Appropriations Committee battled over whether to let the district go bankrupt or whether members really understood the unique condition of Detroit’s schools. 

The Detroit teachers’ sickout on Monday and Tuesday stoked tensions. 

“Nobody except House Republicans thinks that this package of bills is going to fix things in the district,” said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills). “The Governor doesn’t think it’s going to fix things in the district. The Senate Republicans don’t. The Senate Democrats don’t. The House Democrats don’t. The coalition to improve the school district doesn’t. (DPS Transition Manager Steven) Rhodes doesn’t. Nobody thinks that this package of bills is going to fix the underlying problems in the Detroit Public School District.” 

“I guess providing over a half a billion dollars is ‘destruction’ now,” said Rep Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), who spearheaded the charge as chair of the Appropriations Committee, in his speech to the chamber. “A half a billion dollars to free up all the debt and another $50 million annually and another $30 million in start up costs. How does that make me feel? . . . If I went to Benton Harbor and told them I would provide them an extra $1,250 per kid they might actually vote for me there.” 

The House Republican plan, unlike the Senate plan, did not include the creation of a Detroit Education Commission (DEC) that would be charged with approving the opening and closing of schools designed to replicate those that did not score an “A” or “B” on the Commission’s grading scale. 

The mayoral-appointed DEC is designed to traffic cop what is now a free flowing opening and closing of schools in the Motor City, which has made finding schools for parents increasingly difficult. The charter school lobby has opposed the measure out of concern they could become a victim of political gamesmanship down the road. 

House Republican caucus were the only caucus that did not meet with Detroit Mayor Mike DUGGAN, who supports the creation of the DEC. House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) said guests are not a regular part of caucus proceedings and that including the DEC would have gone against his gut. 

“One thing I’ve learned here is to trust my gut and when I’ve gone against it, I’ve regretted it,” Cotter said. “And when I’ve trusted it hasn’t failed. And when I looked at the DEC, it is a clear attempt to choke out charters.” 

On Wednesday, Majority Floor Leader Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) asked Attorney General Bill Schuetteto investigate teachers’ possible violations of the Public Employment Relations Act that prohibits public employees from striking. 

The final amendment adopted by Republicans altered the funding source for the $500 million in state dollars that would be used to erase the district’s debt from the income tax dollars to the Tobacco Settlement Fund, as originally proposed by the Governor. The House is also sticking with a number slightly over $500 million as opposed to the $715 million the Governor and the Senate is supporting.

The struggle for Republicans all night was about pulling together the 55 votes needed to pass their plan. They were getting no help from Democrats. At one point, a source said Republicans looked into running the DPS plan passed out of the Senate, which received bi-partisan support. 

According to one source, the Democratic caucus pulled together 40 votes for Senate package, needing 16 more votes from the right for passage. At one point in proceedings, Republicans attempted to whip support for the Senate package, MIRS learned. 

Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart), who led the efforts on the Senate plan, said it’s unlikely the Senate will support the House plan. House Appropriations Committee Chair Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) signaled during the MIRS Monday podcast that the bills would end up going to a joint House-Senate conference committee. 

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