Whitmer vetoes scholarship plan critics liken to vouchers

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday vetoed Republican-backed bills that would have created scholarship accounts for K-12 students to pay for educational expenses, including private school and tutoring, and given tax credits to people and corporations that donate to the program.

The veto, which was expected, came the same week proponents of the legislation preemptively launched a ballot drive that would enable the GOP-led Legislature to enact identical citizen-initiated bills without her signature.

The Democratic governor said the bills would cut state revenue by as much as $500 million in 2022 alone.

“Simply put, our schools cannot provide the high-quality education our kids deserve if we turn private schools into tax shelters for the wealthy,” she wrote to lawmakers, adding that she has worked to reverse disinvestment in public education.

School-choice proponents such as the Great Lakes Education Project criticized Whitmer saying the funds would have helped more than 1 million kids who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Gretchen Whitmer didn’t just veto legislation — she took away tutors, mental health treatment, after-school programs, textbooks, broadband Internet access and reading supports from Michigan kids,” executive director Beth DeShone said.

Under the plan, students would have been eligible for scholarships if their family income was no more than double the cutoff to receive free or reduced-priced lunch — $98,050 for a family of four currently — or if they had a disability or were in foster care.

Students attending private schools could have gotten up to 90% of Michigan’s minimum base per-pupil funding annually, which equates to $7,830 currently. Those in households with incomes at 100% to 200% of the free and reduced-lunch program threshold would have received less on a sliding scale.

Children enrolled in public schools could have gotten a maximum of $500 a year, or $1,100 if they were disabled.

The funds could have paid for school-related expenses: tuition, fees, tutoring, computers, software, instructional materials, summer school, after-school programming, transportation costs, athletic fees, educational therapies and school uniforms.

Democratic legislators and teachers unions likened the proposal to vouchers and said it would be unconstitutional, citing Michigan’s ban on providing public assistance to nonpublic schools. The bills’ supporters, however, said it would be legal because students would not receive state funds but rather money from individuals and businesses.

Whitmer did not mention the legality of the measure in her veto letter.

Let MI Kids Learn, a ballot committee organizing the initiative to bypass her veto, needs about 340,000 valid voter signatures to send it to the Legislature.


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