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State wins case on sending money to non-public schools

BES Photos / flickr

Michigan’s public schools lost in court today. Multiple public school organizations and the ACLU sued the state over a multi-million dollar budget item.

The lawsuit is over public money going to non-public schools for state mandates; things like safety drills and health requirements. In its opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals said:

The Legislature may allocate public funds to reimburse nonpublic schools for actual costs incurred in complying with state health, safety, and welfare laws. But only if the action or performance that must be undertaken in order to comply with a health, safety, or welfare mandate (1) is, at most, merely incidental to teaching and providing educational services to private school students (non-instructional in nature), (2) does not constitute a primary function or element necessary for a nonpublic school to exist, operate, and survive, and (3) does not involve or result in excessive religious entanglement.

The case goes back to the Court of Claims to sort out the details.

Daniel Korobkin, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, said the ACLU is still deciding if it will appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. He said the Constitution is clear that public money goes to public schools only.

“This opinion would allow taxpayer dollars to go to private schools and at a time when our public school resources are already struggling and public schools need those resources the most,” he said.

But the state Attorney General’s office, which defended the state, said this is a win for all kids in Michigan. 

“This is about keeping our schools safe and our kids safe while they’re there in school and everyone should be in favor of keeping our kids safe,” said Attorney General spokeswoman Andrea Bitely.

The case was decided by a three-justice panel. One justice did not agree with the final decision.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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