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State lawmakers mull changes to expand college savings program to include K-12 expenses

steve carmody
Michigan Radio/NPR

State House lawmakers are considering a package of bills that would change how a program originally created to help Michiganders go to college can be expanded for other educational needs.   

People currently use the Michigan Education Savings Program to contribute money to tax-free accounts to pay for college. The revised federal tax lawopened the door to expand tax-free college savings accounts to allow for people to pay for elementary and high school expenses. 

The Michigan state Senate approved a package of bills to take advantage of the change last year.

State Senator Patrick Colbeck says these contributions to 529 accounts could pay for special education services, extracurricular activities currently not funded by schools, and skilled trades preparation.

“I want to be clear, this is not replacing the current public education funding mechanisms that are out there,” Colbeck told the state House Education Reform committee today. “This is focused on supplementing the existing funding streams that are out there.”

Colbeck says expanding the program would be a “win-win-win” for students, schools, and potential employers. 

But several public education groups oppose the legislation.

Peter Spadafore represents the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

He says the legislation will carry a heavy cost to the state and won’t address the current under-funding of public schools. Spadafore pointed to a report released this week showing a wide gap between what it costs to educate a K-12 student in Michigan and what is actually spent. 

“The solution is not asking parents and private sector businesses to pay for schools,” says Spadafore. “The solution is finding a real way to fund our schools adequately.”

Spadafore says expanding the Michigan Education Savings Program to include K-12 expenses with deepen the divide between the “haves and have nots.”

It’s unclear if state House lawmakers will vote on the proposal anytime soon.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.