LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Wednesday backed a Michigan ballot campaign to allow students to attend private schools and pay other education expenses with accounts funded by tax-free corporate and individual donations.
Critics liken the proposed scholarship funds to vouchers and say they would be unconstitutional because of the state’s ban on providing public assistance to private schools.
DeVos, a longtime school choice advocate whose family donated $400,000 to the Let MI Kids Learn voting committee, encouraged residents to support the effort. She claimed it would withstand legal challenges because the contributions – for which donors would get a tax credit – would go to scholarship-giving organizations and “never become state money”.
The group needs about 340,000 valid voter signatures to send each of the two initiatives to the Republican-led Legislature. Lawmakers could then enact the measures into law despite Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s veto of identical bills in November.
“Parents don’t have to send their kids to schools that don’t care what mom and dad think. By signing these petitions, we can help every child have equal access to a world-class education – whether public, private, charter, home-based, pod, dual-enrollment, online, earn and learn, tutor, after school, extracurricular or any combination of the above,” DeVos said during a virtual event to kick off the collection of petitions by volunteers. Paid circulators have been in the field since December.
DeVos helped lead a 2000 ballot measure — resoundingly rejected by voters — that would have required underperforming school districts to offer students vouchers to use at private schools.
Whitmer, who is running for re-election, said the latest proposal would cut state revenue by up to $500 million in the first year.
“This is an anti-public education effort that will take funds away from schools during a teacher shortage and will be used to provide tax breaks to DeVos and his allies,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan.
Let MI Kids Learn had received $1.7 million as of December 31, including $800,000 from a Washington, DC-based group called Get Families Back to Work and $475,000 from the conservative State Government Leadership Foundation.