Advance Notice: Briefs

Conservative group withdraws DeVos-backed voucher initiative after Democrats control Lansing 

By: - January 9, 2023 5:33 pm

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks with state and local leaders from Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio, in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Thursday, October 3, 2019. | Official White House Photo by Stephanie Chasez via Flickr Public Domain

The state announced Monday that the right-wing group pushing for a school voucher-style system in Michigan withdrew its petitions to get on the 2024 ballot.

On Dec. 28, 2022, the Let MI Kids Learn campaign withdrew both of its petitions from the Board of State Canvassers; 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. 

“We are not surprised that this disastrous petition was pulled, and we’re very pleased because this marks a major victory for public school students, parents, and educators. Over the years — and especially last November — Michiganders have shown time and time again at the ballot box that they do not support efforts to defund public education,” said Casandra Ulbrich, spokesperson for For MI Kids, For Our Schools, a ballot committee opposed to the Let MI Kids Learn proposal.

A spokesperson for Let MI Kids Learn did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

The Let MI Kids Learn campaign, which is backed by former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime advocate and funder of school choice and charter schools, missed the June 1, 2022 deadline to submit petition signatures for the November ballot. 

The campaign’s likely plan after missing the June deadline was to submit the valid number of signatures to get the proposal in front of the Legislature that was then controlled by Republicans. Lawmakers could then approve it without having to submit to voter approval or be subject to rejection by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who vetoed a similar package in November.

However, since June, both the House and Senate flipped to Democratic control and would be unlikely to pass this proposal.

“Betsy DeVos and her allies never wanted the people of Michigan to vote on this, which is why they wanted to, and subsequently failed to ram it through a favorable legislature last year,” Ulbrich said. “We will remain vigilant over the coming years, as DeVos and her anti-public education allies have shown that they’re willing to go above and beyond to try to destroy our neighborhood schools.”

Opponents to the Let MI Kids Learn proposal argued the plan violates the Michigan Constitution and the 1970 Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public money from going to private schools.

“Supporters of this ill-conceived ballot initiative confirmed what we knew all along, which was that Michigan voters would have rejected the proposal if it was on the ballot,” said Peter Spadafore, executive director of the Michigan Alliance for Student Opportunity. “This was purely a political campaign to have the Legislature circumvent the will of the voters and enact an inequitable voucher system.”


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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.