Groups sue to block Michigan funding private schools with public money

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By Ben Klayman | DETROIT

DETROIT Public education officials and parents
groups in Michigan on Tuesday filed a lawsuit to prevent the
governor from funding private schools with public money, arguing
a $2.5 million line item in the state budget for school health
and safety was a “gateway” to school vouchers.

The Michigan Association of School Administrators (MASA),
the Michigan Association of School Boards, ACLU of Michigan,
Michigan Parents for Schools and nine other groups filed the
lawsuit in the state Court of Claims in Lansing, the state
capital, arguing such a move violated state law.

The lawsuit was filed against Michigan Governor Rick Snyder,
the Michigan Department of Education and Superintendent Brian
Whiston.

The groups asked the court to bar the payments and said they
will seek a preliminary injunction later this week to ensure
payments are not issued while the matter is pending.

Vouchers are state-funded payments families can use to send
their children to private or parochial schools and for expansion
of charter schools.

Don Wotruba, executive director of the school boards
organization, called the plans “nothing more than a gateway to
vouchers.” He added that Michigan voters had already “resoundingly rejected” such a plan, referring to a 2000 ballot
proposal that was rejected by 69 percent of voters.

“Our state constitution specifically bans this type of
budget action, and we simply cannot allow it,” MASA Executive
Director Chris Wigent said in a statement.

Snyder spokesman Ari Adler said in an email the governor’s
office does not comment on pending lawsuits.

In July 2016 after the current budget was approved, Snyder
asked the state Supreme Court for an opinion on the
constitutionality of the spending plan. The court in October
declined to give an opinion.

Michigan budgeted $14 billion in the current fiscal year for
funding of kindergarten through high school.

Supporters say the budget line item is constitutional as it
does not fund educational or curriculum purposes prohibited by
the state, but is meant to cover costs associated with state
health and safety mandates.

“Health and safety mandates shouldn’t apply to just one
segment of the population,” said David Maluchnik, vice president
of communications with the Michigan Catholic Conference, the
advocacy group for Catholic bishops in the state.

Among the backers of the 2000 Michigan proposal was U.S.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the former chair of the
Michigan Republican Party who was narrowly confirmed last month.
As chair of the American Federation for Children, she has pushed
at the state level for vouchers. (Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago)



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