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DeVos-backed school funding petition drive launches in Michigan

In April, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued guidance suggesting private schools should benefit from a representative share of federal coronavirus aid money.
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In April, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued guidance suggesting private schools should benefit from a representative share of federal coronavirus aid money.

Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has thrown her support behind a petition campaign to allow personal and corporate tax breaks to indirectly help families pay for private school tuition in Michigan.

DeVos, a longtime advocate for private school choice, said Wednesday that she thinks there may be enough layers separating the tax breaks from financial support to private schools that it would not run afoul of the Michigan Constitution’s ban on direct or indirect public funding for non-public schools.

“We need to give parents their innate right and power to control their kids’ futures,” said DeVos during an online news conference.

DeVos is financially supporting the initiative. She also led an unsuccessful 2000 effort to amend the Michigan Constitution to allow private school vouchers.

If the campaign gathers the necessary 340,047 signatures of registered voters, the Republican-controlled Legislature could vote to approve the petition without the threat of a veto by Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Republicans in the Legislature adopted almost identical bills last year, but Whitmer vetoed them.

If the Legislature does not adopt the petition initiative, the question would go on a statewide ballot. But that would not likely happen in this case, said Sam Inglot with Progress Michigan, because the GOP-controlled Legislature would almost certainly adopt it.

“I think that’s critical for folks in Michigan to know – people will never be able to actually vote on this,” he said. “This is DeVos and her allies trying to buy legislation that will negatively impact public schools across Michigan.”

Inglot said efforts to thwart the initiative could include a “decline-to-sign” campaign and a court challenge.

“All of the options are on the table right now, especially because how big of a threat this is to our public schools,” he said.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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