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Private school tax break campaign files initiative signatures

State Sen. Lana Theis standing outside next to dozens of cardboard boxes labeled with "Let MI Kids Learn"
Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio Network
Republican State Senator Lana Theiss says she expects the Let MI Kids Learn initiative will be the adopted by the Legislature without waiting for it to go to the ballot.

A petition campaign turned in more than half a million signatures Wednesday in an effort to extend tax credits to fund private school scholarships.

The initiative would create credits for contributions to savings accounts to help pay for tuition and other costs of attending private schools.

Next, state election officials will check to make sure the campaign has collected enough valid signatures to send the question to the Legislature.

Republican State Senator Lana Theis said she expects the initiative would clear the GOP-controlled Legislature before the end of the year.

“We need to step up and help the kids and this is doing that,” she said. “This is going to help our children … and parents are the ones who are being given the power to help their children.”

A petition-initiated bill would be immune to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s veto power.

Although approval by the Legislature would be a near-certainty if the signatures pass muster, opponents are going to make a last-ditch effort to convince lawmakers to stand down and let voters decide the issue in two years.

That would also give those opponents time to organize a “vote no” campaign, said Cassandra Ulbrich, a Democrat on the Michigan State Board of Education.

“If it were to pass, it really would create what is a voucher system, which would take money away from traditional public schools and charter schools and divert that money into private schools.”

If the Legislature were to adopt the measure, that would almost certainly trigger a court challenge claiming the initiative violates the Michigan Constitution, which forbids the direct or indirect use of public funds for 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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