Republicans in Lansing Keep Trying To Send Public Funds to Private Schools

Critics call K-12 budget measure a “Trojan horse” for “backdoor” voucher system

Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $16 billion K-12 education budget this week. That’s despite that fact that it would send taxpayer dollars to private and parochial schools — something the governor admits might not be allowed under Michigan’s constitution.

The money would be used to comply with state requirements such as fire drills. Supporters of the provision say there’s no problem because the money won’t be used for student instruction. But critics say the state constitution clearly bans any public funds for private or parochial schools — either directly or indirectly.

From Article 9, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution:


No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students. The legislature may provide for the transportation of students to and from any school.”

Groups critical of the budget measure say they’ll take the issue to court. The ACLU of Michigan is one of those groups considering a legal challenge. Executive Director Kary Moss joins Detroit Today to talk about the issue.

“This budget bill is really almost kind of a Trojan horse, opening the door to funding private schools and a significant amount of private school expenditures,” says Moss. She says it’s part of a pattern of GOP attempts in Lansing to send taxpayer dollars to private schools.

“I don’t think we should look at this one initiative in this particular budget alone,” she says. “(It’s) part of the larger picture about all of the different things that conspire to confine traditional public schools to failure.”

Michigan Catholic Conference President and CEO Paul Long also joins the program to speak in favor of the budget item. He notes that the $2.5 million provision comes from the state’s general budget, not the School Aid Fund, so the money is not being diverted from public schools.

“Non-public schools, I hate to inform you, but they serve a public good,” says Long. “They educate the nexus of 100,000 students in this state. They have graduation rates that are very strong, they have college entrance rates that are very strong, the percentages of students who attend to military service are very high.”

“This money is set aside to ensure that every child in the state, when they walk into a school building, regardless of what kind of school it is, that there are certain health and safety of levels that are being lived up to,” he says. “This is a right and just thing to do.”

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio player above.