For nearly fifty years, Michigan’s Constitution has strictly prohibited taxpayer funding of private and religious schools. However, in 2016 the legislature appropriated $2.5 million to “reimburse” private and parochial schools for complying with mandates that all schools in Michigan must abide by. Governor Snyder signed the appropriation into law but asked the Michigan Supreme Court to issue an “advisory opinion” on whether it was constitutional.
In August 2016, we filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that the appropriation should be struck down because it violates the state constitutional requirement that reserves public education funding exclusively for public schools. However, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to issue an advisory opinion, so we formed a coalition with public school administrators, teachers, and parents to file a lawsuit in March 2017 challenging the constitutionality of the funding.
In April 2018, the Michigan Court of Claims ruled in our favor, declared the statute unconstitutional, and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from funding private schools. However, in October 2018 the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the decision, ruling by a vote of 2-1 that the state can use public tax money to fund private schools in certain circumstances. In June 2019 the Michigan Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case. We filed our brief on appeal in August 2019.
In a separate lawsuit, a religious coalition claimed that the Michigan Constitution’s funding restriction is itself unconstitutional under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment because it prohibits the funding of religious schools. In May 2018 we filed a friend-of-the-court brief explaining that Michigan’s funding restriction is constitutional because it applies neutrally to all private schools regardless of whether they are religious. After we filed our brief, the challengers dropped their lawsuit.
(In re Request for Advisory Opinion Regarding Constitutionality of 2016 PA 249; Council of Organizations & Others for Education About Parochiaid (CAP) v. Michigan; Immaculate Heart of Mary v. Michigan; ACLU Attorney Dan Korobkin; Cooperating Attorney Peter Hammer of Wayne State Law School; Jeffrey Donahue and Andrew Gordon of White Schneider; Brandon Hubbard, Phillip DeRosier and Ariana Pellegrino of Dickinson Wright.)