LANSING, Mich. — A group called Let MI Kids Learn has begun collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would allow Michiganders to get a tax break if they contribute to a statewide student scholarship.
Republican advocates say the effort is about equal education, but opponents say it's too much like a school voucher system and would take money from public education.
The Let MI Kids Learn ballot committee is collecting signatures to create the Student Opportunity Scholarship and allow contributors to the scholarship fund receive a tax credit.
“Students will then be able to utilize those scholarships for 15, 16 or 17 approved educational expenses," said state Rep. Bryan Posthumus, R-Cannon Township. "So tutoring after school, after school care, transportation, books, curriculum, tuition you know it runs the gambit.”
Governor Gretchen Whitmer has indicated she will veto a similar measure that came through the state legislature because it's too close to a school voucher program.
"These bills and the petition drive based on them are nothing more than another voucher scheme similar to what Michigan voters have rejected," said Doug Pratt, a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association. "Time and again, mega-donors like Betsy DeVos keep putting money into trying to funnel resources from our neighborhood schools to private schools, and Michigan voters aren't falling for it."
Pratt said that any proposal that interferes with tax dollars will have an impact on local schools.
"When you say, 'All right, you don't have to pay taxes on this,' that has a negative impact on what we can spend on schools. It is directly taking money out of the education that most of our kids benefit from and that we need to invest in to make sure that every student is successful and prepared for the workplace," he said.
The proposal could also conflict with Michigan's Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public dollars from being used for private schools. A similar effort in 2000 failed.
But Posthumus argued that this proposal isn't like previous efforts.
“In 2000, there was a ballot initiative for school vouchers. This isn't that," he said. "As much as the Democrats want to retire the same old political rhetoric, saying that it is… That was state dollars. This is private funded scholarships that can be utilized in public schools, can be utilized in non-public schools and can be utilized for a vast amount of different opportunities outside of tuition.”
The program would be capped at $500 million in contributions each year.
To make it on the ballot, the petition needs to receive well over 300,000 signatures from Michigan residents.