GOP Scholarship Tax Credit Bills Democrats Call “Voucher Systems” Pass Through House and Senate

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LANSING, MI – The Michigan House and Senate each passed versions of legislation on Tuesday that would grant tax credits to Michigan residents who contribute to a scholarship program to be used in alternative, private and non-public education .

Senate Bills 687 and 688 and House Bill 5405 passed Tuesday morning by the House and Senate Education Committees and were approved by the Senate 20-16 shortly thereafter. The House voted 55-48 Tuesday afternoon on a separate and similar package.

Republican proponents of the legislation say it would provide more flexibility and choice in education and address disparities in the educational options available to students.

Democrats on Tuesday criticized the legislation as an attempt to implement a voucher program and pointed to the state’s constitution, which requires Michigan to maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools.

“No payment, credit, exemption or deduction of tax benefits, tuition vouchers, grants or loans of public money will be provided directly or indirectly to support a student’s attendance at a non-public school,” said the Senator Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia. , reading of the State Constitution.

Polehanki again addressed the bills in the Senate on Tuesday, calling the legislation “voucher systems” and “patently unconstitutional”.

“(The Bills) would send Michigan taxpayer money primarily to private and religious schools while providing generous tax breaks to wealthy donors,” Polehanki said.

Polehanki cited an analysis by the Senate Tax Agency which estimated that the state’s general fund could suffer a loss of $ 1 billion by the program’s fifth year if the proposal becomes law.

“My colleagues were not able to come up with what they would cut in the budget to make up for a billion dollar loss in revenue,” she said.

Under what is known as the Blaine Amendment of 1970, the Michigan Constitution prohibits the use of public money for private schools. Legal efforts to overturn the amendment were unsuccessful.

Senator Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, applauded the Senate’s approval of the bills on Tuesday, saying they would give parents more options to support their children’s education in light of the pandemic.

“The pandemic of the past year and a half has created many unique challenges for educators, parents and students; and the recently reported drops in M-STEP scores statewide is just another indicator that shows us that more can be done, ”Barrett said.

“I believe that helping parents, who are primarily responsible for the education of their children, to access the resources that will best benefit a child’s educational needs is of vital importance to the future success of the students of the Michigan.”

Senate Bill 687 would create Michigan Opportunity scholarship accounts that would be funded by donations from Michigan taxpayers.

The accounts could be used by families for education or learning expenses, including tuition and fees for public, non-public, or online K-12 schools.

The plan prioritizes scholarships for students receiving free and discounted lunch, students in host families, and students with disabilities. Under the bill, any student from a household whose annual income is less than 200% of the threshold for the free and reduced meals program would also be eligible, which means that a family of four earning less than $ 98,000 per year would be eligible.

Senate Bill 688, sponsored by Barrett, would create tax credits for contributions to organizations that provide scholarships and the deduction of funds distributed to scholarship accounts for students.

“The Let Kids Learn plan will work side by side with our schools and educators to give parents better access to the educational tools their children need and provide students with greater opportunities to learn and succeed,” said Barrett . “It’s a plan that all stakeholders can support. “

Several other states offer similar education accounts and tax credit scholarships.

Under the House bill, the state would create scholarships for students, which could be used for tutoring, additional textbooks, vocational technical education, summer education programs or courses. advanced for students who currently cannot access it.

“Every child deserves an equal chance at success, regardless of family background or economic status,” said Representative Phil Green, R-Millington. “These scholarships are the key to expanding opportunities for all children by putting parents in control of their education. Parents know better than anyone what is best for their children. This plan will allow them to make the best choices for their unique needs.

Every approved bill will need to be approved in the opposite chamber before going to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office, where he will likely be vetoed.

As the bills made their way through the legislature on Tuesday, Democrats were quick to point fingers at former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose family has long supported attempts to open the way to the use of public funds for non-public education alternatives.

“Today, with little to no notice, the GOP-controlled legislature blocked a set of school voucher bills that would give taxpayer money primarily to private and religious schools while providing generous tax breaks to wealthy donors. , namely Betsy DeVos, “said the Michigan Democratic Party. President Lavora Barnes in a statement. “This relentless assault on public education must end. Our students and teachers deserve better. We will continue to fight the anti-education machine of Betsy DeVos and stand alongside our partners in public education.

Republicans, meanwhile, have targeted Whitmer for shutting down in-person learning last year amid the pandemic as they celebrated the legislation.

“We support this legislation because it offers students the opportunity to make up for the learning loss created by Gretchen Whitmer and gives parents the flexibility and control to meet their child’s unique challenges, especially after a difficult year,” said declared the Michigan GOP. spokesperson Gustavo Portela.

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