Ballot drive launched to bypass Gov. Whitmer's veto of school voucher plan

A ballot drive was launched Monday to sidestep Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s planned veto of Republican-proposed legislation that would authorize a school voucher-style system in Michigan.

Let MI Kids Learn needs to gather about 340,000 valid voter signatures to send each of two initiatives to the GOP-led Legislature. Lawmakers then could enact the measures into law despite the Democratic governor’s opposition.

The proposals would let Michigan students attend private schools and pay other educational expenses with scholarship accounts funded by people and corporations that would get equivalent income tax credits for their donations.

"This exciting legislation gives new opportunities to learn to children and new choices to tens of thousands of Michigan parents," Fred Wszolek, spokesman for the ballot committee, said in a statement. He noted Whitmer’s pending veto of similar bills that cleared the House and Senate last week.

"We’re just as determined to veto Whitmer’s veto with our petition," said Wszolek, who is involved with other GOP-supported ballot drives to impose tougher voting rules and require legislative approval to extend emergency pandemic orders beyond 28 days.

Democrats and other critics said the voucher initiatives are unconstitutional. Michigan has what is considered to be the country’s strictest constitutional ban on providing public assistance to nonpublic schools.

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

Under the plan, K-12 students would be eligible for scholarships if their family income is no more than double the cutoff to receive free or reduced-priced lunch — $98,050 for a family of four now — or if they have a disability or are in foster care.

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

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Children enrolled in public schools could get a maximum of $500, or $1,100 if they are disabled.

The funds could pay for school-related expenses such as tuition, fees and tutoring. State tax revenue would be cut by as much as $500 million in the first year and up to $1 billion in the fifth year, and public schools would see a drop in funding depending on how many kids switch to private schools.

Let MI Kids Learn will begin circulating petitions after the Board of State Canvassers approves their form and a 100-word summary for each proposal.