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Petition campaign to enact private school tax break asks board to OK language

MChe Lee

A state elections board is scheduled to meet Monday in Lansing. The Board of State Canvassers’ agenda includes consideration of a petition campaign to allow a tax break for donating to funds for private school education.

Approval of the Let MI Kids Learn petition form is not required, but it could help inoculate the drive to initiate a veto-proof law from technical challenges in court. Earlier this month, Governor Gretchen Whitmer vetoed similar bills that were sent to her by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

At the time, Whitmer called the legislation “tax shelters for the wealthy” that would siphon revenue from public schools.

The Let MI Kids Learn campaign wants to initiate a law that could not be vetoed by Whitmer that would allow people to claim a tax break for donations to funds that would help families with the costs of sending kids to private schools.

Campaign spokesman Fed Wszolek says that would include tuition, as well as home internet, and school supplies.

“This is about providing educational opportunities that span a wide array of options,” Wszolek told Michigan Public Radio. “We allow people to contribute to these non-profit educational opportunity scholarship funds and receive a tax credit for their contribution, and then these scholarship funds can award scholarships to families to pay for education expenses.”

The petition drive would have to gather roughly 340,000 signatures of registered voters to send the initiative to the Legislature, which would almost certainly adopt it. If not, the initiative would be placed on the statewide ballot.

Opponents will launch their own effort to ask voters to ignore petition circulators.

“We believe that Michigan’s public schools need adequate funding to serve students’ academic, social and emotional needs now more than ever, and that this is the wrong move for the state of Michigan,” said Casandra Ulrich, a Democrat on the Michigan State Board of Education, who is a leader of the decline-to-sign effort. “We could be talking about a billion dollars that are being diverted out of the tax system and are being diverted to private and religious schools.”

A legal challenge would also be likely on the grounds the initiative violates the Michigan Constitution, which forbids direct or indirect taxpayer funding of education in private schools.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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