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.”
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.
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.