Heated debate continues over push for Michigan scholarship program with tax breaks

Empty classroom covid-19
Posted at 1:48 PM, Nov 09, 2021

(WXYZ) — In Michigan, the constitution does not allow public dollars to support private schools. And Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently vetoed a package of Republican-backed bills that Democrats say amounted to school vouchers.

"It is a voucher, in another name. All these programs, tax credits and opportunity scholarships are fundamentally ways of siphoning money away from public schools, and allowing those funds to go towards private education," said Doug Pratt, Michigan Education Association director of public affairs.

In her veto, Governor Whitmer said, "simply put, our schools cannot provide the high-quality education our kids deserve if we turn private schools into tax shelters for the wealthy."

House Republican Bryan Posthumus adamant that this is not about vouchers.

"They can't win on the argument on this and, so, they are resorting to the same tired, failed rhetoric that they've been espousing for the last 20 years," said Posthumus.

And there's now a push to side-step Governor Whitmer's veto and move the same legislation forward with a petition. The group Let MI Kids Learn is spearheading the effort to collect more than 340,000 signatures from registered voters, which would make the legislation veto-proof. And what it offers is what Posthumus believes parents want.

"This legislation puts power in the parents' hands to choose the best education for their kids. And it creates an equal education opportunity for everybody in the state of Michigan. No longer will zip codes and parents' wealth be a determining factor in our in our kids' future," said Posthumus.

Under the proposed legislation, donors would receive a tax credit for money they contribute to non-profit organizations that would grant money to families under the student opportunity scholarship program.

A family of four could not earn more than $100,000 a year, so the rich would not quality. The students who would include those in foster care and those with disabilities. And the money could be used for anything from tuition for public or private schooling, tutoring services, extracurricular activities, textbooks and uniforms.

Michigan Democrats say this is nothing more than a way to divert public dollars away from public schools.

"These tax credits that are being talked about would take money away from public education coffers. You know, whether it's direct money taken from the state budget, or whether it's money, the revenue is lost because of tax credits. Either way, you're reducing the revenue available to our public schools," said Pratt.

"It's time for changes all the way around," said mother Maria Surowiec.

"I do think that parents who do choose to send their children to private school should get some kind of assistance. But it's hard for me to say, 'take money away from the public school system'. That to me is the most important thing. There's nothing more important than education," said Patti Fitzer, educator in the public school system.

Surowiec said, "if we could have used our tax dollars for our education to send mine to private schools that were sometimes better than public, it would have made a world of difference."

"There's always the question of the slippery slope and that's the concern. Once you do start opening the door, then, yeah, the concern is what else is going to happen," said Fitzer.