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State ban on public funding for private schools likely unaffected by US Supreme Court ruling

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A major U.S. Supreme Court ruling on public funding for religious schools will likely not directly affect Michigan.

On Tuesday, the nation’s highest court made it easier for religious schools to obtain public funds, upholding a Montana scholarship program that allows state tax credits for private schooling.

The court's 5-4 ruling, with conservatives in the majority, came in a dispute over a Montana scholarship program for private K-12 education that also makes donors eligible for up to $150 in state tax credits.

Montana's highest court had struck down the tax credit as a violation of the state constitution's ban on state aid to religious schools. The scholarships can be used at both secular and religious schools, but almost all the recipients attend religious schools. 

Michigan's state constitution has a similar ban.

But Michigan’s Attorney General’s Office says the state’s law is different from Montana’s. Michigan’s law contains a general prohibition against public funding of the private schools, as contrasted with those state constitutions like Montana’s that only prohibit the support of parochial schools.

So, it is unlikely the high court ruling will effect Michigan’s prohibition.

Ben DeGrow is with the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He says that likely means Michigan's law will stand, for now.

“For now it means Michigan families still face an extra hurdle that most other states do not,” says DeGrow.

Groups advocating for private and religious schools hope the Supreme Court’s ruling will lead to a legal challenge of Michigan’s school funding law.

Michigan’s largest teachers union is concerned about the ruling.

David Crim is a spokesman for the Michigan Education Association.

He says the decision is bad news for public schools.

“This decision is an attack on students who attend public schools that are badly underfunded,” says Crim.

Critics contend state laws barring public money for private and religious schools are a legacy of 19th Century politician James G. Blaine.

Many states, including Michigan, included Blaine Amendments in their state constitutions. The intent was to deny government funds for religious schools, primarily Catholic schools.

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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.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.