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Michigan Republicans are trying to pass education bills that put public money toward private schools. Here’s why that’s unconstitutional. 

LANSING, Mich.—Michigan’s leaders have made strides to improve public education in the state. 

Boosts to education funding was a central cog in Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s latest budget. Her most recent state budget included a substantial amount of money going toward public education, closing the gap between schools. 

But those efforts could be moot if a trio of GOP-led education bills pass. The bills incentivize donating public funds to nonpublic school scholarship opportunities, something that is forbidden by way of Michigan’s constitution. 

“Our lawmakers should be focused on addressing decades of underfunding public schools and undervaluing educators and school staff, not propping up corporate-run schools to please their big donors,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “This is the same old DeVos agenda repackaged into new bills that are likely unconstitutional and definitely bad public policy—and Michiganders are tired of it.”

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Do These Education Bills Actually Go Against the Constitution? 

On Tuesday, the GOP-led Michigan Senate passed two bills while the Michigan House passed one package. Each bill differs in some way, but they each contain one common element: they support public funding going toward nonpublic schools, something banned through the state constitution. 

The first of those Senate bills creates the Michigan Opportunity Scholarship Account, which would be funded through donations from taxpayers. That money would go toward education and learning expenses for public, private, and online schools. 

A second Senate bill would create tax credits for contributions made to groups that provide scholarships, offering a dedication of funds distributed this way.

The House bill passed Tuesday is similar in nature, creating Student Opportunity Scholarships that can be used for supplemental education programs. 

The bills have yet to be approved and still have a ways to go before landing on Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk, where they would likely be vetoed. 

But those opposing the rules say they shouldn’t have gotten this far to begin with, with opponents saying the bills are unconstitutional because they support spending public money on private schools. 

Arguing that the bills violate Michigan’s constitution, Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) noted that the bills would primarily benefit private and religious schools, according to The Detroit News

“So, we have private donors getting tax benefits from taxpayer dollars to pay for kids to attend private or religious schools,” Polehanki was quoted as saying. “You know and you know, senators, that the Michigan Constitution is crystal clear on the subject of using public money for private or religious education.”

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The Michigan GOP v. Public Education

Michigan’s constitution makes it clear that public dollars are not to be used for nonpublic education. The Blaine Amendments, passed in 1970, spell it out even more. 

“No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious sect or society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the state be appropriated for any such purpose,” it reads. 

The bills are a sneaky workaround, opponents believe, with some watchdog groups calling them DeVos-backed attacks on public education.

“Once again, Michigan Republicans are doing their damnedest to funnel our tax dollars into nonpublic schools in an effort to undermine public education,” Scott said.