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Michigan public school advocates launch effort opposing DeVos-backed voucher initiative

By: - March 16, 2022 2:13 pm

Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos | Education Department via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

A coalition of education groups launched a new ballot question committee, For MI Kids, For Our Schools, Wednesday to oppose the Betsy DeVos-led proposal to create a school voucher-style system that would use public tax dollars to fund private education.

Last month, former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime champion of school choice and charter schools, kicked off the Let MI Kids Learn initiative after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a similar bill package in November. 

Opponents to the Republican-backed Let MI Kids Learn initiative say it would funnel money from already financially strapped public schools to help fund private and charter schools.

“This ballot initiative is one of the most dangerous threats to Michigan Public Schools today,” said Arlyssa Heard, a Detroit Public Schools Community District parent and an organizer for 482Forward, a Detroit-based education advocacy group.

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

“Private schools do not mean education paradise,” Heard said. “I know that parents like me may be frustrated with the state of our public schools. But let me be clear, the answer to our dreams for our kids’ education does not lie within private schools, let alone giving billionaires and millionaires huge tax breaks. The answer is to invest in our public schools and invest in our communities.”

The voucher initiative already has major donations from the DeVos family, the Devos-backed Great Lakes Education Project, Get Families Back to Work, which has the same address as the Republican Governors Association and the State Government Leadership Fund, an offshoot of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

If Let MI Kids Learns collects the required amount of signatures, the GOP-controlled Legislature will be able to vote the petition into law instead of voters deciding in November. This method would circumvent Whitmer and wouldn’t allow her to veto the measure. 

The groups opposing Let MI Kids Learn are 482Forward, American Federation of Teachers Michigan, K-12 Alliance of Michigan, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, Michigan Education Association, Michigan Education Justice Coalition, Michigan Parent Teacher Association and the Middle Cities Education Association.

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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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