Advance Notice: Briefs

DeVos-backed voucher initiative submits second petition in effort to avoid veto from Whitmer 

By: - August 29, 2022 5:38 am

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

A right-wing group pushing for a school voucher-style system in Michigan has submitted a second petition in an effort to do an end-around Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto pen.

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, submitted more than 500,000 signatures Friday.

The group has now submitted 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. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Mackinac Policy Conference, June 1, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Opponents to the initiative argue the plan violates the Michigan Constitution and the 1970 Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public money from going to private schools.

They also contend the proposal would primarily benefit those who are already in the upper income brackets.

“The proposal is unlikely to help poor and middle-class students attend private schools, with funds likely to go to students already in private school,” said For MI Kids, For Our Schools, a coalition of education groups opposed to the plan. “The taxpayers most likely to be able to take advantage of the tax credit are wealthy individuals and corporations.”

Even though Let MI Kids Learn missed the June 1 deadline to submit petition signatures for the November ballot, that doesn’t mean voters will have a say in 2024. If the proposal has enough valid signatures, it first goes in front of the Legislature. The House and Senate, which are currently Republican-controlled, can then approve it without having to submit to voter approval nor be subject to rejection by Gov. Whitmer — who vetoed a similar package in November.

Let MI Kids Learn spokesperson Fred Wszolek indicated that was the intention in a tweet Friday.

“Let MI Kids Learn delivered 519,666 signatures for its 2nd initiative petition to create & fund new Student Opportunity Scholarships. Next stop: certification by the Board of Canvassers and passage by the Legislature. Governor Whitmer (D-MEA) is unable to veto this legislation,” said Wszolek.

Wszolek also runs a super PAC, Michigan Strong, that supports GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, who supports the plan.

Michigan is the only state that allows organizers of voter-initiated legislation to circumvent a governor’s veto by collecting at least 8% of the total votes cast for gubernatorial candidates in the most recent election.

While each petition far surpassed the required 340,047 valid signatures, the late filing means the state’s Bureau of Elections does not have to review the signatures until after November’s midterm election.


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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.