Michigan Legislature Approves Private School Tuition Accounts | Michigan News
By DAVID EGGERT, Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Children could qualify for scholarships to attend private schools and to cover educational expenses such as tutoring under bills approved Tuesday on party line votes in the Assembly Michigan legislature led by Republicans.
Fast-track legislation, introduced less than a week ago, would allow individuals and businesses to claim a 100% credit on their income taxes for donations to nonprofits, which would send money on the education savings accounts of eligible students. It will be vetoed if it gets to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose spokesperson called him a “non-starter.”
“Quite simply, these bills are voucher schemes that were shamelessly introduced during a pandemic, which would send Michigan taxpayer money primarily to private and religious schools while providing generous tax breaks to wealthy donors,” said Senator Dayna Polehanki, a Democrat from Livonia who called the law unconstitutional. Others said it would divert funding from public schools.
Supporters, including groups linked to school choice supporter Betsy DeVos, said the bills would increase educational opportunities for disadvantaged children and give parents additional choices.
“Parents should have the right to make the best decision for their children based on the unique needs they have,” said Senator Tom Barrett, a Republican from Charlotte, sponsor of a measure.
Another sponsor, Republican Senator Lana Theis from Brighton, said it was time to ‘rethink education’ amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need bold and creative solutions to further engage parents and students on the path to educational success,” she said of the proposal, which supporters say is backed by laws from Florida and Arizona.
Kindergarten to Grade 12 students would be eligible if their family income does not exceed double the threshold to receive a free or reduced price lunch – $ 98,050 for a family of four – if they have a disability or are with a host family.
Students attending private schools could receive up to $ 7,830 this year, 90% of the state’s minimum base per student funding. Those in households with incomes between 100% and 200% of the free and reduced meal program threshold would receive less on a sliding scale.
Children enrolled in public schools could get a maximum of $ 500, or $ 1,100 if they are disabled.
The scholarships could cover school-related expenses: tuition fees, tuition fees, private lessons, computers, software, educational materials, summer courses, transportation costs, sports fees, educational therapies and school uniforms. State tax revenues would be cut by $ 500 million in the first year, and public schools would see their funding drop based on the number of children who go to private school because of the scholarships.
The Michigan Constitution states that “no money or public property” can be used to “aid or maintain” private schools. It is considered to be the country’s toughest constitutional ban on providing state aid to non-state schools.
Abby Mitch, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, said tax credits for charitable donations are “not public funds.” It is apparently private funds that are reallocated by the state to parents. But critics, including Michigan’s largest teachers’ union, said the proposed program was clearly illegal under a 1970 constitutional amendment approved by voters.
“The courts have reaffirmed this language time and time again. Our public school students have won every time, ”said Representative Darrin Camilleri, a Democrat from Trenton.
Separate bills were approved on 20-16 and 55-48 in the Senate and the House. Final votes can only take place next week.
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