Education Leadership Groups Condemn Narrow Court Decision to Allow Public Funding for Private Schools

Public education leaders today condemned the decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals that would allow taxpayer dollars to be allocated to private schools.

In a narrow 2-1 decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled today that the state may allocate public money to private schools to cover “actual costs incurred in complying with state health, safety and welfare laws.” At issue is $2.5 million in the 2016-17 state budget that had been earmarked for private schools. A Court of Claims ruling in July 2017 prevented those public funds from being doled out to private schools under the budget signed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators (MASA), Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB), Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals, Middle Cities Education Association, Kalamazoo Public Schools, Michigan School Business Officials, and other public education advocacy groups joined in a lawsuit stating that using public funds for private schools is unconstitutional.

“Today’s ruling flies in the face of our state Constitution, which clearly states that public dollars cannot be used to fund private schools,” said MASA Executive Director Chris Wigent. “This is a clear attack on public education by special interests that want to funnel taxpayers’ money away from public school classrooms.”

In a dissent, Judge Elizabeth Gleicher stated that such an appropriation was “irreconcilably inconsistent” with Michigan’s constitutional ban on giving public funds to private schools.

Michigan’s Constitution states the use of public funds for private institutions is prohibited:

Excerpt from Article VIII § 2

No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students.

“I am extremely disappointed with the majority opinion on this issue, and believe the constitutional prohibition that voters approved in 1970 is being further eroded with this decision,” said MASB Executive Director Don Wotruba. “The public in Michigan has always believed – and reaffirmed at the ballot box – that money from the School Aid Fund is meant for children attending public schools. This appropriation is delivered directly to private entities in Michigan.” 

The organizations involved in the lawsuit are working with their legal counsel and considering their next steps.