State files brief supporting some state funds for private schools

    Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and State Superintendent Michael Rice filed a brief with the Michigan Supreme Court on Friday that argued providing financial assistance to nonpublic schools to cover costs associated with certain state mandates is partly constitutional. 

    In the GOP-controlled Legislature’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget signed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, the state was allowed “to reimburse actual costs incurred by nonpublic schools in complying with a health, safety or welfare requirement mandated by a law or administrative rule of this state.”

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Casey Hull

    A lawsuit challenging its constitutionality was filed a few months later. Whitmer and Rice became parties to this lawsuit upon taking office in 2019. 

    The governor and state superintendent reviewed the law and argue that the state can provide funds to nonpublic schools to help them pay the costs of complying with state mandates, but only if they’re related to student transportation. 

    “When we partner to ensure a great education for our kids, we must do so in compliance with the Michigan Constitution,” said Whitmer. “As governor, I take an oath to uphold the constitution of our state. As always, I am ready to continue working to ensure every child, no matter their community, can get a quality education that puts them on a path to a good job, and will work with everyone who wants to reach that goal.”

    Opponents to this interpretation of the State School Aid Act say the law violates the Michigan Constitution’s prohibition against state funding of nonpublic schools. 

    Michigan Supreme Court will hear case over private school funding

    Dan Korobkin of the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents two of the plaintiffs, criticized the state’s decision in a June statement

    “Not only is this attempt to fund parochial and private schools unconstitutional, it diverts tax dollars from the public schools they’re intended to fund at precisely the time when our public schools need resources the most,” Korobkin said. 

    The case is Council of Organizations v. State of Michigan.

    Allison Donahue
    Allison 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.