News Story

Senator raises concerns over constitutionality of Whitmer’s new education department

Last year, MiLeap was not ripe for constitutional review. Now it could be

A hearing of the Michigan Senate Appropriations Committee brought up again the question of whether Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new education-focused department is constitution.

The Senate Appropriations Committee heard a presentation on March 6 by Emily Laidlaw, director of the Child Care Licensing Bureau within the new Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential, or MiLEAP. Sen. Thomas A. Albert, R-Lowell, raised concerns over the constitutionality of the department.

“I have a question over the constitutionality of some of the recommendations made here today,” Albert said.

Albert quoted from Article 8, Section 3 of the Michigan Constitution, which says, the State Board of Education “shall serve as the general planning and coordinating body for all public education, including higher education, and shall advise the legislature as to the financial requirements in connection therewith.”

Albert then pointed to the Great Start Readiness Program, which is run by MiLEAP.

Michael Rice, superintendent of public instruction, was questioned about the new department, according to MIRS News. He did not agree with the decision to create it. But, he said, he would leave it up to the attorney general to decide the constitutional question. “It’s her decision.”

Rice asked Attorney General Dana Nessel to weigh in on the matter. Nessel said it would be premature for her to issue an official opinion.

“After the (governor’s executive order) becomes effective in December and MiLEAP begins to ‘implement its vision,” Nessel wrote, “there could be actions taken by MiLEAP that the Board (of Education) contends infringe on its constitutional authority. It is at that point, where a specific set of facts exists, that an opinion may be appropriate. Unless and until such a situation arises, however, issuing any type of opinion on potentially overlapping authority of the Board and MiLEAP is premature.”

Molly Macek, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center, thinks that MiLEAP’s plan to expand state spending on pre-K merits a constitutional review.

“As the ‘general planning and coordinating body for all public education, the State Board of Education should be involved in the Legislature’s financial decisions regarding public education programming,” Macek told CapCon. “MiLEAP is spending money on the expansion of pre-K; it would make sense for the state Board of Education to seek the attorney general’s opinion again on the constitutionality of this program.”

Editor’s note: Albert did not respond to a request for comment. After this story went live, a representative of Rice’s office reached out to CapCon, seeking a clarification of what the state superintendent said. We have updated the story to reflect his thoughts.

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.