A school choice group in Michigan has cleared one of two major hurdles it needs to circumvent Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s (D-MI) veto of a school choice measure.
On Wednesday, Let MI Kids Learn overwhelmingly topped the number of signatures the group needed in order to put its petition for a tax-incentivized education scholarship program in front of the Michigan legislature for a second time.
The petition needed 340,047 signatures, and got over 520,000.
Now, the petition has been submitted to the Michigan Bureau of Elections, which will review and validate the signatures and send them to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, which will certify the votes and send the proposal back to the legislature.
The legislature, led by Republicans, previously passed several bills to set up the Student Opportunity Scholarship program in October, but Whitmer vetoed them the next month.
If Michigan’s legislature approves the school choice program a second time, it will become law. Whitmer will not have the power to veto it again.
The program would give the families of K-12 students access to tax-credit scholarship funds, which can be used for many different educational expenses, including online classes, tutoring, extracurricular programs, mental health services, textbooks, laptops, WiFi, and even transportation.
“Michigan Student Opportunity Accounts will equip families with grants and benefits they can use for any education or learning expense – both inside and outside the classroom,” Let MI Kids Learn says on the group’s website.
The scholarship accounts would also add extra funding for the educational needs of students who stay in public schools, the group says.
Eligible students are those from households that earn no more than $98,000 for a family of four, or 200% of the reduced lunch qualification threshold. Lower-income students would be given first priority, as well as children in foster care and those with disabilities. Other students can receive smaller scholarships depending on their household income.
Another petition from Let MI Kids Learn pushes for a tax credit for private donors who donate to the scholarship program, but that petition has not garnered enough signatures so far.
The push for school choice in Michigan comes as parents across the country became frustrated with the public school system during the COVID pandemic when lockdowns, mask mandates, and learning losses in children made many families reconsider their education choices.
About 72% public schools reported higher rates of chronic absenteeism, meaning students who miss at least 15 school days a year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Meanwhile, more than 87% of public schools say the pandemic negatively affected students’ socio-emotional development over the past school year. About 83% of schools said students’ behavioral development has also been negatively affected.
Other states are moving toward school choice as well.
Last month, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a huge expansion of Arizona’s private school voucher program, making all of Arizona’s K-12 students eligible for scholarship funds. Participating families will receive more than $6,500 per year per child for education expenses outside the public school system.
Overall, 19 states enacted new or expanded school choice policies for a total of 21 states and Washington, D.C., offering some form of school choice program.