DeVos-backed voucher initiative submits signatures late in hopes GOP Legislature will act

By: - August 10, 2022 3:39 pm

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits Detroit Edison Public School Academy, Sept. 20, 2019 | Allison Donahue

A right-wing group pushing for a school voucher-style system in Michigan submitted more than 500,000 signatures Wednesday to get the proposal in front of the GOP-led Legislature.

The Let MI Kids Learn campaign, backed by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate and funder of school choice and charter schools, missed the June 1 deadline to submit petition signatures for the November ballot. 

The group introduced two petitions; one to create the Student Opportunity Scholarship Program to pay tuition and fees in K-12 public or private schools, homeschooling materials and online learning programs for students with financial need; and the other to make contributions to the program tax deductible. 

According to the coalition, only signatures for the scholarship program petition will be submitted Wednesday and signatures for the petition for tax deductible contributions will be filed “soon.”

“After school shutdowns and COVID learning loss, families are desperate for the change that this proposal brings to Michigan education,” said Let MI Kids Learn spokesperson Fred Wszolek. “Michigan families will soon have more educational choices for their children than anywhere in America, and that’s good news for the future of our state.”

The group submitted 520,598 signatures Wednesday, exceeding the required 340,047 valid signatures required. If the Bureau of Elections approves the signatures for the proposal, it will go to the GOP-led Legislature for a vote. If approved, the measure will not go before voters and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who opposes the initiative — has no power to veto it.

Whitmer vetoed a similar bill package in November. 

Michigan Capitol | Susan J. Demas

In March, a coalition of education groups launched a committee, For MI Kids, For Our Schools, to oppose the Let MI Kids Learn ballot initiative.

Casandra Ulbrich, spokesperson for the For MI Kids, For Our Schools and president of the State Board of Education, said the Let MI Kids Learn initiative will “guarantee less funding for local public schools across the state.”

“Our local schools are struggling with an educator shortage and a lack of mental health resources for our kids. This voucher proposal will only make the situation worse by taking away hundreds of millions of dollars every year from our local schools and giving the funding to for-profit private schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers,” Ulbrich said in a prepared statement. 

Ulbrich also criticized the campaign for missing the deadline to get in front of voters in November and instead submitting the proposal late to go straight to the Legislature for final approval without being subject to a gubernatorial veto. 

Secure MI Vote, another Republican-backed coalition that seeks to require ID for in-person and absentee ballot applications and eliminates an affidavit option for in-person voting without ID, also submitted past the deadline in hopes that the Legislature will adopt it. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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