David Hecker: Public money should go to public schools

December 3, 2021 10:04 am

American Federation of Teachers-Michigan President David Hecker, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart at a Capitol rally for public schools, June 18, 2019 | Derek Robertson

For decades, the DeVos family and their ilk have crusaded to undermine public schools and funnel money into private schools, and unfortunately, they’re back at it again. 

This latest push to defund public schools began in the Legislature, where Republican lawmakers passed bills that would create tax credits for “scholarship funds” that could be used at non-public schools, which is just a more roundabout way of taking public money that should be spent on public education and putting it into private schools. Thankfully, Governor Whitmer continued to stand on the side of public schools and vetoed the legislation, but the fight to stop this latest DeVos-backed initiative isn’t over.

A ballot committee with the misleading name “Let MI Kids Learn” has launched a ballot drive featuring a similar initiative to create a voucher-like program. This petition drive has been approved by the state Board of Canvassers and could start collecting signatures within the next few weeks.

And because of the way Michigan’s initiative process works, it’s possible for the Legislature to vote it into law themselves without Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature once the petition has garnered enough signatures, rather than putting it on the ballot so Michigan voters have a say. Under this process, 340,000 voters who choose to sign the petition could effectively outweigh the 2.26 million who voted for the Governor. We must defend the public education the vast majority of families rely on to make sure our taxpayer dollars support schools that are open to all.

With public schools across the state already struggling due to inadequate and inequitable funding, it’s more important than ever that we defend public education and ensure public money is being used to support public schools. 

On the surface, policies like this might sound harmless, especially when they are described in such misleading ways. But regardless of how they spin it — using terms like “education savings accounts,” “tuition tax credits,” or “scholarship funds”— any kind of voucher program for schools is a direct threat to our state’s ability to provide a quality education for every kid.

At AFT Michigan, we believe in setting every kid up for success, regardless of who they are or where they live. The only way to accomplish that is to ensure public schools in communities across the state are adequately funded and given the resources they need to serve their students in and outside of the classroom.

Additionally, private schools have the luxury of choosing their own students based on a variety of factors — unlike public schools, which are open to all. Enacting any kind of voucher program would divert money from the public school system undermining the education of public-school kids.

Let me be clear. A parent should send their children to the schools they believe are best for them. However, if they choose a private school, it is not the responsibility of the state to help offset the cost. Public money must be used to support our public schools that are open to all.

The DeVos agenda has already done too much harm to public education in our state. We cannot allow them to rob public schools. It is vital that we stop the “Let MI Kids Learn” initiative in its tracks and decline to sign their petition.

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David Hecker
David Hecker

David Hecker was the president of AFT Michigan. Previously, he was secretary-treasurer of the state federation. A member of the AFT executive committee, Hecker was first elected as an AFT vice president in 2004.