Hickson said the bills were “introduced and acted upon quickly”, but after evaluating the bills the Michigan Catholic Conference is now supporting them.
However, Bobby Leddy, a spokesman for Whitmer, said the legislation was a “nonstarter.”
“The Michigan Constitution sets up a system of school funding designed to ensure the quality of free public education in Michigan,” Leddy said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “This legislation undermines that constitutional guarantee, permitting the diversion of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars annually to private institutions. Michiganders are tired of the attempts to force a Betsy DeVos-style voucher program that drain resources from our public schools.”
DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education under President Donald Trump, was cited by every Democratic legislator who argued against the bill. They said it served her interests.
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DeVos is a wealthy Michigan resident. She and her family are major donors to many Republican-leaning causes and she is a major backer of school choice programs.
Foes of the legislation include the Michigan Association of School Boards, whose membership includes over 600 boards of education.
Critics like Democratic State Sen. Dayna Polehanki, a former teacher, said the proposal was unconstitutional.
In 1970, Michigan voters approved a constitutional amendment that bans public funds and public credits for any non-public school. The amendment also bars indirect payments and is considered the strictest ban in the U.S., according to the Associated Press. In the 2000 election, voters strongly rejected a constitutional amendment that would have declared a constitutional right to school vouchers.
However, the Michigan Supreme Court recently upheld a court ruling that allows the state to reimburse the costs of private schools’ compliance with state-mandated rules, including recordkeeping and background checks for teachers.
According to Chalkbeat, the Michigan legislation is similar to that which passed in Montana, whose ban on state programs for private school tuition was narrowly overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2020.
The Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents “must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.”
(Story continues below)
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“Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services’ Egan Journalism Fellowship.