Battle of Public Schools vs. The State Continues

The state budget calls for private schools to get $2.5 million from the state.

Jake Neher/WDET

Public schools and the state were in court today over concerns with a portion of the state budget.

A judge ruled Wednesday that private schools will still not get money set aside for them in last year’s state budget.

This is because of a pending lawsuit by public schools against the state.

State Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Twp.) chairs the committee in charge of the education budget. He said he still wants private schools to get the money.

“We’re going, we’re well past a year,” he said. “They’ve been held up for a year, we’re into a second year of expenses that these schools deserve to be reimbursed for.”

The budget calls for private schools to get $2.5 million from the state. The money is to reimburse schools for things the state requires – like fire drills.

The public schools say the money violates a constitutional ban on public money for private schools.

The judge will reconsider the issue in August. In the meantime, the state cannot give out the money to private schools.

A related part of the education budget is also raising eyebrows, though currently no lawsuits.

A part of Michigan’s proposed budget would penalize public schools that use state dollars for lawsuits against the state.

The proposal comes on the heels of lawsuits by school districts against the State School Reform Office, as well as the lawsuit over the allocation to private schools previously mentioned.

If the budget is signed as is, schools that use state dollars to sue the state would have to forfeit some of the money they get from the state. The district would give up state dollars in the same amount they spend on legal expenses. 

Kelly said lawsuits against the state are a poor use of state money.

“How often do we hear from the school community that we’re underfunding classrooms, we’re underfunding education,” he said. “And here they turn around use their money to sue the state.”

But critics argue this would have a chilling effect on schools.

Peter Spadafore is with the Michigan Association of School Administrators. He said school districts have gone to court and won against the state on important issues. This would put that ability in jeopardy.

Spadafore said, “You know I can see the spirit of this but the idea here is really to tell school districts no they shouldn’t be suing the state.”


  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.