Advance Notice: Briefs

GOP launches school voucher ballot drive

By: - November 2, 2021 8:33 am

April Corbin Girnus/States Newsroom

Republicans launched a ballot drive Monday to create a school voucher-style system that would use public tax dollars to fund private education ahead of an expected veto from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Circumventing the long standing policy of not using public education dollars for private education efforts, while using clever terms intended to deceive the voters like scholarships and tax breaks does not fool our Governor or the voters,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes. “Creating a ballot question committee on this issue would be straight out of the Republican playbook of convincing voters to vote against their own best interests with clever messaging.”

The Republican-led state Senate and House last month passed Senate Bills 687 and 688 and House Bills 5404 and 5405, which would give tax credits to Michiganders who contribute to a scholarship program for nonpublic schools.

Republicans pass voucher-style education bills that opponents say are unconstitutional

If the group, Let MI Kids Learn, collects 340,000 signatures, the GOP-controlled Legislature can choose to approve the ballot question rather than put it on the ballot for voters to decide.  Either way, Whitmer is unable to veto. 

This has been a popular tactic for right-wing groups. Unlock Michigan used the citizen-initiated ballot measure process to yank Whitmer’s emergency powers that were part of her initial COVID-19 response. Republicans’ Secure MI Vote effort is also using it for its current voter restriction measure. 

The Michigan Republican Party did not explicitly comment on the voucher petition, but did support the identical bills passed by the Legislature.

Michigan students suffered under out-of-touch Gretchen Whitmer’s rule when she shut down schools affecting students of all walks of life,” said Gustavo Portela, MIGOP communications director. “We’re in support of this legislation because it provides students the opportunity to catch up on the learning loss created by Gretchen Whitmer and gives parents the flexibility and control to address their child’s unique challenges, especially after a tough year.” 

However, Democrats and education leaders are critical of the legislation and ballot initiative, saying it redirects public dollars from public schools to fund tuition for private educations. 

“Michigan voters have resoundingly opposed attempts by mega-donors like Betsy DeVos to enact voucher schemes in our state,” said Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart. “We value our neighborhood public schools and know that funneling money to private schools does nothing to provide equal opportunity for Michigan students.”

DeVos, U.S. education secretary under former President Donald Trump and a Michigan native, has been a longtime school choice champion and has pushed for voucher programs to reroute resources from public schools to private and religious schools.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered 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.