LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Wednesday backed a Michigan ballot drive to let students attend private schools and pay other educational expenses with accounts funded by tax-free corporate and individual donations.
Critics liken the proposed scholarship funds to vouchers and say they would be unconstitutional due to the state’s ban against providing public assistance to private schools.
DeVos, a longtime school choice advocate whose family has given $400,000 to the Let MI Kids Learn ballot committee, encouraged residents to support the effort. She contended it would withstand court challenges because the contributions — for which donors would get a tax credit — would go to scholarship-granting organizations and “never become state money.”
The group needs about 340,000 valid voter signatures to send each of two initiatives to the Republican-led Legislature. Lawmakers then could enact the measures into law despite Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s veto of identical bills in November.
“Parents don’t have to send their kids to schools that don’t care what mom and dad think. By signing these petitions, we can help every child have equal access to a world-class education — no matter if it’s public, private, charter, home, pod, dual-enrolled, online, earn and learn, tutor, after-school, extracurricular or any combination of the above,” DeVos said during a virtual event to kick off petition gathering by volunteers. Paid circulators have been in the field since December.
DeVos helped lead a 2000 ballot measure — resoundingly rejected by voters — that would have required poorly performing school districts to offer vouchers for students to use at private schools.
Whitmer, who is up for reelection, has said the latest proposal would cut state revenue by as much as $500 million in the first year.
“This is an anti-public education effort that will take funding away from schools during a teacher shortage and will be used to give tax breaks to DeVos and her allies,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan.
Let MI Kids Learn had taken in $1.7 million as of Dec. 31, including $800,000 from a Washington, D.C.-based group called Get Families Back to Work and $475,000 from the conservative State Government Leadership Foundation.