Former Vice President Mike Pence visited Michigan on Tuesday, speaking alongside former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in support of a proposal to create new scholarship accounts for Michigan students to help cover education expenses, including private school tuition.
The couple told a gathering of several hundred students at Lutheran High School Northwest – a private Christian school in Rochester Hills – that Let MI Kids Learn initiative petitions would allow more Michigan students to attend a school like theirs.
Pence called the DeVos-backed proposal an “idea whose time has come” that would expand school choice and improve public schools by forcing them to compete with private schools.
“Some kids in this state are trapped in failing schools,” he told students. “Some children go to schools plagued by violence. Some students who only want to learn math, science and history often experience political indoctrination in the midst of these lessons. And it’s not their fault, it’s is the government’s fault.”
Opponents of the Let MI Kids Learn proposal argue that it would create an unconstitutional voucher system to divert taxpayers’ money from public schools to private schools.
Pence’s speech to students ended with a standing ovation and was capped off by several minutes spent taking selfies with students before he and DeVos hosted a roundtable with parents and school officials from schools. religious and chartered.
The Let MI Kids Learn plan he supports in Michigan includes two initiative petitions.
One would create a scholarship called the Student Opportunity Scholarship to provide grants to families of K-12 students to cover educational expenses such as online classes or tutoring. The second would create a new tax credit for those who contribute to the program. The proposal would cap tax credits for donors and businesses contributing to the scholarship fund at $500 million per year.
Governor Gretchen Whitmer vetoed GOP-backed bills last November that sought to create the scholarship accounts. But if organizers of the Let MI Kids Learn initiatives collect at least 340,047 signatures on each of the petitions by June 1, the GOP-led Legislature could pass the measures without Whitmer’s approval.
Michigan stands out nationally by allowing lawmakers to enact voter-initiated legislation with enough signatures, bypassing the governor and the approval of a majority of voters in a nationwide election. of State.
After: Betsy DeVos Supports Michigan School Choice Vote Campaign
After: Whitmer vetoes scholarship plan critics who liken them to vouchers
While serving as education secretary, DeVos consistently championed proposals cutting funding for public education and deploying federal funds to expand school choice, including increasing federal support for private schools, analysts show. of the non-partisan Education Funding Committee.
DeVos and his family members contributed $500,000 to Let MI Kids Learn, according to campaign fundraising reports.
Responding to critics who say the plan would degrade the quality of public schools, DeVos countered that “the resources we already spend on children should be spent on following that child to the best place for them.”
Pence echoed the comment. “I mean frankly, there are many families in Detroit, many families across Michigan who don’t have a choice,” Pence said. “They don’t have the economic means to move to a school district where the schools are better, safer, or more efficient. Or they just don’t have the option to leave a public school.”
DeVos said she expects Let MI Kids Learn to trigger legal challenges if approved by lawmakers, but she doesn’t expect the challenges to ultimately succeed.
Michigan’s constitution contains a broad prohibition on public funding of private education. It states that “no public money or property” can “assist or maintain” private schools, including direct and indirect funding through tax benefits among other forms of financial support.
A federal judge may soon rule on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Michigan’s ban on public funding of private schools.
Under the Let MI Kids Learn initiatives, public school students would receive up to $500 and people with disabilities up to $1,100 per year through student scholarship funds. Private school students would receive up to 90% of the base annual per-pupil funding for public school students, which is currently set at $8,700.
Nearly 70% of Michigan voters in the 2000 election rejected a proposal similar to the Let MI Kids Learn initiatives.
Pence touted his tenure as Indiana governor in speaking out in favor of the plan, saying that under his leadership, public schools improved when the state doubled the size of its school choice program.
Pence was also expected to appear on Tuesday at a fundraiser for State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, who is running to unseat incumbent U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, in the new 7th Congressional District centered in Lansing. .
Clara Hendrickson audits Michigan issues and politics as a body member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support his work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Reach her at [email protected] or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.