The Michigan Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a sweeping school choice plan that funds student learning through education savings accounts.
Called Michigan Student Opportunity Accounts, the legislation would allow parents to utilize state dollars as they see fit, by either staying in the traditional government system, enrolling in another option such as a private or virtual school, or receiving additional tutoring or other support.
The bills come after the legislature passed a $155 million expenditure to provide reading scholarships for 155,000 students who fell behind during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdowns and ban on in-person learning. Whitmer vetoed the plan, just as she is expected to veto the Student Opportunity Accounts.
A Whitmer spokesperson called the legislation a “nonstarter.”
“Governor Whitmer shut down Michigan schools. Then, Whitmer vetoed reading scholarships for students who fell behind as a result of those shutdowns. It’s time for Whitmer to finally let kids learn,” Michigan Freedom Fund executive director Tori Sachs said after the vote. “The legislature voted today to ensure every student in the state has access to tutors, Wi-Fi and laptops, textbooks, mental health services, and much more. Giving parents flexibility and control to address their kids’ unique challenges in the middle of – and after – a global pandemic means more opportunity and better outcomes. Wealthy families can already afford to pay for their students’ educational needs. It’s time every family has the same options.”
Michigan Rising Action noted Democrats voted against the legislation:
“It is shameful that Michigan Democrats regularly put powerful teacher unions and campaign donors before parents and students,” Group Executive Director Eric Ventimiglia said. “Their opposition to legislation that benefits student’s unique needs is not just playing political games, it is a dereliction of duty.”
Senate Bills 687 and 688 and House Bills 5404 and 5405 would create the Student Opportunity Accounts through a nonprofit agency, likely avoiding state constitutional issues.
“Families who qualify for free-and-reduced school lunch, those at or below 200% of the free-and-reduced lunch eligibility, and families of students with special needs,” would be eligible, according to the Michigan Freedom Fund.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, who called for such a plan less than two weeks ago, praised the legislation’s passage.
“I applaud Republican legislative leaders for passing such consequential legislation that empowers parents to do what is best for their children. Parents know best, not politicians and union bosses. We should give power back to them, and that is exactly what the Republican Legislature began to do today,” Dixon said in a statement.
“I know from personal experience, and from meeting so many parents on the campaign trail, that this program would mean so much to so many. The state would continue meeting its obligation of providing an education, but it allows parents to be the decision makers. It is the paradigm shift I called for two weeks ago,” she continued.
“If I were governor, I would sign this legislation and we would celebrate on behalf of all parents and children who could have the opportunity to receive a world-class education that best meets their needs,” Dixon said.
“Gretchen Whitmer’s likely veto to benefit the union bosses propping up her flailing campaign is yet another reason why we need to defeat her next November.”
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