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Michigan Supreme Court Declines To Rule On State Money For Private Schools

Michigan Supreme Court
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A plan will go ahead to let private and religious schools get taxpayer money for health and safety programs mandated by the state.  That’s after the Michigan Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the issue.

Governor Rick Snyder asked the court for a non-binding, but influential advisory opinion on whether the new budget provision violates the Michigan Constitution’s ban on direct or indirect state financial support for non-public schools.  Republicans in the Legislature are testing the limits of the ban by offering $2.5 million in the new budget for private and religious schools to recoup money spent on state-mandated health and safety programs. 

The court order said, “…we are not persuaded that granting the request would be an appropriate exercise of the Court’s discretion.” 

There’s no way to know for sure, but it does not appear there were any dissenting votes in the private conference of the court, which has a 5-2 Republican majority. 

Kurt Weiss of the State Budget Office says the program will go forward in the absence of a decision by the court. 

“Since the budget does have the money there, and there’s sort of a non-decision today, we are moving forward with it,” he said.

It will be up to the Department of Education to administer the program and award the grants to schools. 

But this is likely not the last word on the matter. 

Don Wotruba of the Michigan Association of School Boardssays the reimbursement program still amounts to state aid for private and parochial schools. 

“Whatever the money is for, I think the argument has to be made that that is not what the drafters of our constitution were thinking of when they put the prohibition in place,” he said.  “Our constitution very clearly says no direct or indirect aid should go to private schools, and this is an appropriation from the state of Michigan of two and a half million dollars for private schools.” 

Wotruba says public school groups will decide before the end of the year whether to file a legal challenge to the budget provision.

Catholic schools were in the front of the effort to win the reimbursements. 

“It is important to note that despite the Court’s denial of the advisory opinion, it did not find the funding unconstitutional as the opponents had argued, meaning the appropriation will continue and nonpublic schools are entitled to funding.  At this point, we look forward to working with the Michigan Department of Education to establish the parameters by which non-public schools will rightfully be reimbursed for complying with health and safety mandates,” said Tom Hickson of the Michigan Catholic Conference

Hickson said the Catholic Conference would support efforts to defend the budget provision. 

Michigan voters have twice rejected proposals to allow direct state aid to private and parochial schools.  

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— Rick Pluta is the Managing Editor and Reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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