News Story

Michigan Association of School Boards joins coalition against Let MI Kids Learn

Scholarship program is misrepresented as a voucher, but it’s funded by donors

The boards of several public school districts in Michigan have passed a resolution denouncing the Let MI Kids Learn initiative.

The boards of education for Birmingham Public Schools, Bloomfield Hills Schools, Bendle Public Schools, the Dickinson-Iron Intermediate School District and Battle Creek Public Schools, among others, discussed or adopted a resolution template created and provided by the Michigan Association of School Boards. Some districts adopted it with minor modifications.

The advocacy group Let MI Kids Learn promotes an initiative petition campaign to create and fund Michigan Student Opportunity Scholarships. Under its plan, individuals and corporations could receive state tax credits for giving money to scholarship granting organizations that fund savings accounts for qualifying students. The accounts would be open to families with an income of up to 200% of the limit for a free or reduced price school lunch, and parents could use them for a variety of educational purposes.

The Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators has distributed talking points, one-pagers and fact sheets to describe the proposal. Most are misleading.

Another group that opposes the initiative campaign is For MI Kids. Its members include teachers unions, the ACLU, school board and superintendents associations and other public school-supporting associations.

The resolution offered by the school board association calls the proposal a “backdoor private school voucher program,” portraying it as an effort to take money from public schools and give it to private schools. The funds that would be distributed by scholarship granting organizations, could, however, be used by public school students who need additional support. Families that receive the funds could use them to buy laptops and textbooks, tutoring, education therapy, and special education services. They could also use them for expenses for homeschooling, private school, or other non-traditional schooling.

The school board association says that 69% of Michigan voters already rejected a tuition voucher program. That number refers to a ballot proposal offered to state voters in 2000. That proposal would have given students vouchers to attend nonpublic schools, within certain parameters, according to Ballotpedia. The plan proposed by Let MI Kids Learn is not a repeat of the decades-old proposal.

The Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators states on its website that Let MI Kids Learn “would take hundreds of millions of dollars away from our public schools.” The group For MI Kids uses the phrase “billions of dollars.” The school board association, in its resolution, refers to “redirecting public school dollars.”

None of those charges reflects how the Let MI Kids Learn proposal would work.

Individuals and corporations making donations to scholarship organizations would receive a tax credit. For instance, if they donated $1,000, they would receive a $1,000 tax credit. Since the money is donated by private parties to the scholarship organizations that then make grants to families, it never touches government coffers. So it’s not possible for money to be redirected from public schools.

The program would be capped at a $500 million annual cap for the first year, with the cap rising to $1 billion over five years.

Fiscal Impacts of Educational Choice, a report published by the Mackinac Center, notes that out of 73 studies of programs like that envisioned by Let MI Kids Learn, 68 showed positive fiscal effects on taxpayers.

Four studies found them to be cost-neutral. Five found net costs to certain taxpayers.

The Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did the Michigan Association of School Boards.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.