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Whitmer, GOP clash on Michigan ban on public funds for private schools

Jan 10, 2020

Bridge Magazine January 10, 2020

“LANSING – What began as a partisan fight over modest school reimbursements may morph into a major battle over Michigan’s ban on public funding for private education.

And the state’s highest court this year could decide the case that is being closely watched nationwide by all sides of the schools of choice debate.

Religious and non-public school groups in late December asked the Michigan Supreme Court to strike down the 1970 state constitutional amendment prohibiting taxpayer funding for private schools, arguing it was motivated by anti-Catholic bias and violates the free exercise clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The ban “covertly suppresses particular religious beliefs,” attorneys for the Michigan Catholic Conference and the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools wrote in a court filing. “There is no compelling state interest to justify its prohibition against secular education to religious schools.”

The ban applies to all private schools, and supporters say even small funding opens the door to the kind of school voucher programs Michigan voters rejected in 2000 despite an aggressive campaign backed by Betsy DeVos, who now serves as U.S. secretary of education. 

“Michigan voters keep reaffirming that they want public tax dollars to go exclusively to public schools,” said Dan Korobkin, legal director for the ACLU of Michigan, a plaintiff in the case. He called arguments against the state constitution a “side issue” in a lawsuit over specific spending plans.

“There’s no reason why states should not be able to say we're dedicated to public education, so we're going to use tax dollars for public schools," Korobkin said. “And that's all that Michigan is doing here.”” Continue Reading Bridge Magazine January 10, 2020