Judge strikes down Michigan aid to private schools

May 1, 2018
Ruling states $2.5 million earmarked for private schools in both 2016 and 2017 violates constitutional ban on aid to non-public schools.

A Michigan judge has struck down as unconstitutional two state laws that reimburse private schools for the cost of fire drills, inspections and other state requirements.

The Detroit News reports that Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens ruled the 2016 and 2017 budget laws violate the state constitution’s ban regarding direct or indirect aid to non-public schools.

Public school groups had challenged $5 million in appropriations over those two years. The spending has been frozen during the lawsuit.

“The constitution is clear that public money should only be used for public schools,” says Dan Korobkin, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. “Today’s ruling sends a message to lawmakers that public dollars cannot fund private interests.”

Stephens rejected the state’s argument that the money was not for educational purposes but rather health, safety and welfare purposes.

The judge found that providing money to offset compliance costs “supports the employment of nonpublic school employees” and cedes a “significant degree of control” to private schools — unlike other allowable expenses such as “shared-time” aid for public schools that enroll private students in non-core elective classes.

The suit was filed in March 2017 by the Michigan Association of School Boards and groups representing school districts, administrators and parents.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed eliminating the $2.5 million allotment in 2018 and 2019 budgets. But House lawmakers included the funding for the third year running in an early draft of the 2019 budget approved this month.

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