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Michigan GOP calls for repeal of school funding amendment

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Republican legislators in Michigan are seeking the repeal of an amendment to the state constitution banning state money from being used for non-public schools.

The Michigan GOP wants to repeal an amendment to the state constitution. The amendment prevents public dollars from funding non-public education.

It bars the use of direct or indirect state support to make non-public school tuition more affordable.

State GOP spokesperson Gustavo Portela said repealing the amendment would give families more ways to respond to pandemic-related learning interruptions.

“We believe there’s a need to repeal the Blaine amendment because it could prohibit students and families from receiving equitable education based on individual learning needs.”

Blaine amendments are named for 19th-century U.S. Congressman James Blaine, a Maine Republican who sought an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have banned using public dollars to fund parochial schools.

Opponents of the repeal effort are tying it to others that would implement a school voucher system in Michigan where the state would help pay for non-public school tuition. It’s something repeal opponents say would come at public schools’ expense.

“At a time when our state is trying to come together to solve the educator shortage, the last thing we should be doing is draining even more funding from our local public schools,” Michigan Democratic Party chair Lavora Barnes said in an emailed statement.

Both a recent effort in the Legislature and an echoing petition drive have attempted to create tax-incentive-driven scholarships that Michigan parents could use for education-related expenses, including private school tuition.

Opponents to the effort say that would also violate the state constitution.

Robert McCann is the executive director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan. He said repealing the amendment would be a “massive change” for Michigan’s school funding.

“It’s something that the voters of Michigan banned more than 50 years ago because they wanted to ensure that tax dollars were only going to public schools, and this attempt now to repeal it is a dangerous precedent,” McCann said.

But Portela said public school closures during the pandemic have hurt access to fair education.

“There should be all options on the table to make sure that we’re helping our students catch up, and we believe this is a specific path forward to ensuring that they’re able to catch up on their education and that they’re prioritized,” Portela said.

Proposed amendments to the state constitution can get on the ballot through a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the Legislature, through petitions, or through a constitutional convention.

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