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Former Vice President Mike Pence stumps for school voucher-like petition drive in Michigan

Former Vice President Mike Pence was in Michigan Tuesday encouraging support for a petition drive that critics claim will reduce funding for the state’s public schools.

The Let MI Kids Learn petition would create state tax credits for individual or corporate donations to fund voucher-like student scholarship programs.

The former Vice President received an enthusiastic reception from hundreds of students at Lutheran Northwest in Rochester Hills. Later, at a meeting with educators and parents, Pence called the petition “exciting.”

“It allows parents to take their tax dollars where they want to go. And also encourages businesses with a tax credit to literally be able to support those scholarships,” said Pence, “It’s very exciting.”

But not everyone considers the petition exciting.

“Let MI Kids Learn was just another scheme by corporate interests like the DeVos family to defund public schools and funnel taxpayer dollars into private institutions,” said Lonnie Scott, spokesperson for For MI Kids, For Our Future.

Critics contend the proposal would undermine public schools and funnel public money into unaccountable private and charter schools.

Former U.S. Education Secretary, and longtime private school supporter in Michigan, Betsy DeVos was at the vice president’s side during Tuesday’s public events.

She denies critics charges that the petition drives she’s supporting would undermine Michigan’s public schools.

DeVos also rejects the proposal would run afoul of a provision in the Michigan state constitution which prohibits spending public funds on private schools, including in the form of a tax credit.

DeVos says the petition is designed to survive a legal challenge, since the money in what she calls “education savings accounts” would be controlled by parents who could decide where and how the money would be spent.

“It could be for tutoring services. It could be for a specific school other than their assigned school. It could be for a combination,” DeVos told reporters. “It really leaves the door wide open as to how individual families would use those education dollars.”

The campaign drive needs more than 340,000 signatures on both petitions.

If there are enough valid signatures, the Republican controlled state Legislature could enact the voucher-like plan without the governor’s signature or voters’ approval.