The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and a coalition of public education leaders and parent groups filed an appeal Tuesday asking the Michigan Supreme Court to rule that it is unconstitutional for the state to use public tax dollars to fund private schools.
“Our constitution could not be clearer on this issue: public money should only be spent on public schools,” said Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan Deputy Legal Director. “State lawmakers must not be allowed to use our public school dollars to fund private interests.”
Today’s appeal follows a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Michigan and its coalition partners in March 2017 to prevent the state from diverting $5 million to private schools. Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens issued a preliminary injunction against the payments in July 2017, and issued a ruling declaring them unconstitutional in April 2018. But last month the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in a 2-1 decision. The coalition has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to reinstate Judge Stephens’ ruling on the grounds that the state constitution clearly prohibits the use of public funds to fund private schools:
Excerpt from Article VIII § 2
No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school. No payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student or the employment of any person at any such nonpublic school or at any location or institution where instruction is offered in whole or in part to such nonpublic school students.
“To divert tax dollars to private schools is an attack on public education and the children who attend public schools,” said Steve Norton, with Michigan Parents for Schools, which the ACLU of Michigan represents along with the Detroit-based community organization 482Forward.
“We will not stand by in silence while state lawmakers undermine the future of our children,” said Dawn Wilson-Clark, a parent with 482Forward, whose mission includes advocacy for full and fair funding of public education in Detroit. “Public funds are for public schools, period.”
“Voters have spoken on at least two occasions at the ballot box on this issue and each time, voters overwhelmingly said that public funds should be spent on our public school children,” said MASB Executive Director Don Wotruba. “The Appeals court decision seemingly disregards what Michigan voters expected when this language was added to our Constitution.”
“The ruling of the Court of Appeals is a blatant violation of our state Constitution," said Chris Wigent of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators. “This is a clear attack on public education by special interests that want to funnel taxpayers’ money away from public school classrooms."
In addition to the ACLU of Michigan, Michigan Parents for Schools, and 482Forward, the appeal is being filed by the Council of Organizations and Others for Education About Parochiaid, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan School Business Officials, Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, Middle Cites Education Association, and the Kalamazoo Public Schools.
To read today’s filing here.