Across the country, school shutdowns have forced children back into remote learning, once again threatening their physical and mental health. Teacher’s unions appear to have school districts backed into a corner. But lately, parents have begun to fight back and those in Michigan are joining the growing numbers who are calling for school choice.
Michigan school choice has been, like in numerous other states, a hot topic as of late. Last November, the Michigan House and Senate passed legislation that would have given parents more control over where their children would go to school and the funds that would help them. But Governor Gretchen Whitmer felt parents shouldn’t have that say so, she did not sign the bills into law.
Expected, but undeterred, Let MI Kids Learn was formed. This group, organized by parents who are determined to have better control over their children and funds via Michigan school choice, is just one of many groups popping up across the country looking to do the same. The goal here is for Let MI Kids Learn to overturn Gov. Whitmer’s veto. To do so, they need to get 340,000 signatures which would then allow Legislature to enact these changes without the governor’s signature.
Let MI Kids Learn has two petitions they are working on. The first one covers Michigan school choice by creating what they call a Student Opportunity Scholarship. The scholarships would pay for students’ educational expenses like extra tutoring and go as far as tuition for private schools. The Student Opportunity Scholarship would allow for more options for students and families. This would be a big deal in Michigan if it were to happen.
The second petition covers the funds that would be required to make these Student Opportunity Scholarships a reality. If passed, this petition would give tax credits to any individual or company that wished to make contributions to the scholarship-granting organizations. But it wasn’t just Whitmer who opposed these two potential new laws.
What opponents disagreed with was the fact that if a voucher-style system was to be implemented, it would go against the state Constitution. Michigan’s constitution requires the state to maintain and support a free public elementary and secondary schools’ system. Nowhere in the constitution does it state that Michigan parents are to have school choices.
After Whitmer declined to sign into law Michigan school choice, the next step was to get the petition’s approved by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. Their approval was required in order for petitions to go out for signatures. It took nearly a month, but in late November the State Canvassers approved the petition summaries. Michigan school choice was back on the table.
Although Whitmer didn’t offer her signature, she did agree on one thing with Michigan parents, the COVID pandemic was destroying children. According to data released by the Michigan Department of Education, students M-STEP scores dropped dramatically in math and social studies. One thing the state education department wanted to point out was the increased amount of anxiety surrounding the students who were tested. They also pointed out that fewer than 75% of the students who were eligible to take the test did not.
With the petitions finally cleared to get out amongst Michiganders, they hope to reverse the course of Whitmer’s lack of penmanship and do what 21 other states have accomplished. That is to offer more school choices to parents and families. Unlike some of the other scholarship programs seen in other states, the Michigan school choice will allow funds to be used not only for tuition for private schools, but the funds could also be used for school transportation, tutoring, and CTE/skilled trade programs.