A lawsuit over a law that provides some public money to private schools will be taken up by the highest court in the state.
Initially, a lower court ruled the funding arrangement unconstitutional because the state constitution prohibits public money from being used to “directly or indirectly ... aid or maintain” a private school. But an appeals court reversed this ruling because the money does not directly support education. Rather, the appropriation signed into law under former Gov. Rick Snyder provides funds to reimburse the private schools for costs associated with complying with safety, health and welfare laws.
The Michigan Supreme Court announced this week that it will review the appeals court ruling and the law’s constitutionality.
“The need to fully and finally resolve the present dispute has been made especially critical by the fact that it has now been nearly three years since our Legislature enacted [the law] and since a lower court of this state issued a preliminary injunction preventing that law from taking effect,” Justice Stephen J. Markman said in the court order.
“Whether [the law] is ultimately sustained, or nullified,” Markman said, “it is long past time that this Court, the highest of our state, determine decisively which of these outcomes is warranted, so that the product of our legislative process is no longer maintained in limbo.”
Brian D. Broderick, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Non-public Schools, told The Center Square that he thinks the law is fair and equitable. He said the legislation is legal, that the benefit is huge and the cost to taxpayers is small.
“Parents want to know that their children are going to school in a safe nurturing environment,” Broderick said via email. “Parents in private schools pay the same taxes as those in public schools and should enjoy some of the same benefits.”
Ben DeGrow, the director of education policy at the Michigan-based, free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said a Supreme Court ruling will decide whether parents will have more or less options in their children’s education.
“This case will not be simple for the justices to sort out. In the end, it could have far bigger implications than a few million dollars in appropriations to private schools,” he said via email. “The interpretation of Michigan’s half-century old anti-aid amendment, with its rigid restrictions on parental choice, is at stake. As a result, Michigan families may find themselves with access to either more or fewer educational options.”
Several public school groups are fighting the current law with the help of the Michigan ACLU. The Michigan ACLU did not respond to a request for comment.
Due to a conflict of interest, Justice Elizabeth Clement will not participate in the case. She served as the chief legal counsel for Snyder when he was governor.