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Michigan Governor Signs $617M Detroit Schools Bailout Package

Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law a $617 million bailout package for debt-ridden Detroit Public Schools, going against the wishes of Detroit lawmakers, the district's teachers union, and the city's mayor.

The package of bills, approved by the Republican-led legislature, will help pay off $467 million in operating debt and provide $150 million in start-up funding to create a debt-free district.

"This marks a new day for Detroit families, with DPS free from debt and strong accountability measures for all schools in the city that promises a brighter future for all of Detroit's children," Snyder said in a prepared statement.

Under the law, Detroiters will elect a new school board in November. Members would take office in January and hire a new superintendent. A finance review commission, established after the city's bankruptcy, would be expanded to provide oversight of the school district, which has been run by a series of state-appointed emergency managers since 2009.

"This legislation gives Michigan's comeback city a fresh start in education," Snyder's statement read. "Now the residents of Detroit need to engage with their schools and help find good leaders who can provide the best possible chance of success for families in the city."

That's not how some Detroit residents see it.

The bailout package does not include a proposed Detroit Education Commission, which would have regulated the location of traditional and charter schools in the city. Instead, the law calls for creation of a new advisory council that would produce non-binding recommendations on where schools are needed and study a potential citywide transportation system for all students.

The bills, which Snyder signed Tuesday, also strengthen anti-strike provisions that could discourage, or prevent, teacher sickouts. It was the series of coordinated sickouts, where teachers called out sick en masse to protest their working conditions and compensation, that helped bring attention to the plight of the 46,000-student district.

But plans to develop a merit pay system solely for the Detroit and allow noncertified teachers in the classroom appear to have hit closest to home for the teachers union.

"Rather than finding ways to attract and retain qualified and experienced teachers, this law now pretends that skill and knowledge means nothing," American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Detroit Federation of Teachers Interim President Ivy Bailey, and AFT Michigan President David Hecker said in a joint statement.

"By allowing noncertified teachers to enter the classroom, often in schools serving some of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable students, this legislation puts the students and families of Detroit at risk."

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