Petition drive intended to circumvent gubernatorial veto

LANSING, Mich., Nov. 2, 2021 — An anti-public school advocacy group launched an initiative petition drive this week intended to circumvent a likely gubernatorial veto on legislation to create a pseudo-voucher program. The petition drive is expected to mirror the language of Senate Bill 687 and House Bill 5405, which would create a system in which some donations to private schools could be tax-deductible.

“Call it what you want, but this is simply a voucher program with extra steps,” said House Democratic Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Township). “This petition drive seeks to go around both Michigan’s constitution and executive authority, showing that Republicans are willing to compromise every value to serve Betsy DeVos’ agenda, checking items off her wish list at the expense of our public school students. At a time when we are facing an unprecedented teacher shortage, lawmakers should be searching for innovative ways to support public education instead of applying that creativity toward syphoning taxpayer dollars away from public school classrooms.”

Michigan’s Constitution states, “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.”

“While Michigan’s public schools face many real issues, including a crippling shortage of educators to serve students, Republican lawmakers have fast-tracked yet another unconstitutional effort to ignore the will of voters,” said MEA President Paula Herbart. “This comes at a time when our public school educators are often doing more with less to serve the academic, social and emotional needs of our students as we recover from the pandemic. Instead of working to support these efforts, this is just another partisan game. If donors like Betsy DeVos want to fight again over the same tired, rejected ideas that pit students, families and communities against each other, MEA and our members will fight back once more – while we work tirelessly to ensure every student, regardless of where they live, benefits equally from a quality public education.”

The petition drive will need to obtain 340,000 signatures, slightly over 3% of Michigan’s population. Public school opponents in the Legislature likely have no intention of letting this petition language go to the ballot for a statewide vote and will instead opt to utilize a legislative maneuver to pass a veto-proof law. Independent budget analysts predict that this move would reduce state revenue by $500 million a year, some of which is used to support neighborhood public schools.