Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said it’s “constitutionally prohibited” for the state to provide financial assistance to nonpublic schools in a recent legal brief.
Whitmer and Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Michael Rice filed a brief in the Michigan Supreme Court to oppose providing state assistance to nonpublic schools. The brief was filed in the case of Council of Organizations v. State of Michigan, which involves a 2016 appropriation passed by the State Legislature.
That law appropriates more than $2 million in state funds to “reimburse actual costs incurred by nonpublic schools in complying with a health, safety, or welfare requirement mandated by a law or administrative rule of this state.”
After its passage, the ACLU of Michigan led a coalition of parent groups, teachers, and administrators in filing a lawsuit against the statute in March 2017. The Michigan Court of Claims found the statute unconstitutional in an April 2018 ruling, but that decision was overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals in October 2018. The Michigan Supreme Court announced in June that it would hear the case.
“Not only is this attempt to fund parochial and private schools unconstitutional, it diverts tax dollars from the public schools they’re intended to fund at precisely the time when our public schools need resources the most,” Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director at ACLU of Michigan, said at the time.
Opponents of the statute point to a 1970 amendment to the Michigan Constitution, which states:
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.
In a press release, Whitmer’s office noted that she and Superintendent Rice became parties to the lawsuit upon taking office in 2019. In their new legal brief, they argue that the state can provide funds to nonpublic schools to help them pay the costs of complying with state mandates only if those mandates are related to student transportation.
“Beyond that, the statute’s funding of nonpublic schools is constitutionally prohibited,” Whitmer’s office said.
“When we partner to ensure a great education for our kids, we must do so in compliance with the Michigan Constitution,” Gov. Whitmer said in a statement. “As governor, I take an oath to uphold the constitution of our state. As always, I am ready to continue working to ensure every child, no matter their community, can get a quality education that puts them on a path to a good job, and will work with everyone who wants to reach that goal.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Gov. Whitmer Reads to Schoolchildren” by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.