By DAVID EGGERT – Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos backed a Michigan Ballot Campaign to allow students to attend private schools and pay other education costs with donation-based accounts that would qualify for tax breaks.
Critics liken the proposed scholarship funds to vouchers and say they would be unconstitutional because of the state’s ban on public aid 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 argued it would withstand legal challenges because the contributions — for which corporate and individual donors would get a 100% tax credit — would go to the organizations giving scholarships 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 pass the measures despite Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer veto identical bills in November.
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“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, the education secretary in the administration of President Donald Trump, said at 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. Noting that a high percentage of charter schools in Michigan are run by for-profit entities and citing low reading scores, she called the education privatization movement a “catastrophic failure.”
“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 taken in $1.7 million as of December 31, including $800,000 from a Washington, DC-based group called Get Families Back to Work — which shares an address with the Republican Governors Association — and $475,000 dollars from the Conservative State Government Leadership Foundation.
Under the plan, K-12 students would be eligible for scholarships if their family income does not exceed twice the threshold to receive a free or reduced price lunch – $98,050 for a family of four people now – or if they have a disability or are in foster care.
Students attending private schools could get up to 90% of the state’s per-student minimum base funding, which equates to $7,830 this year. Households with incomes between 100% and 200% of the free and reduced meals program threshold would receive less on a sliding scale.
Children enrolled in public schools could receive a maximum of $500 a year, or $1,100 if they are disabled. The funds could pay for school-related expenses such as tuition, fees, and tutoring.
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