Gretchen Whitmer and Her Board of Education Look To Crush School Choice in Michigan

Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer / Getty Images
June 16, 2022

Democratic Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and her state's Board of Education are opposing a ballot initiative, already passed by the state legislature, that would provide vouchers for more than one million students to attend the school of their choice.

The state education board adopted a resolution on Tuesday against the Let MI Kids Learn ballot initiative, which is similar to legislation used in dozens of other states and would allow families to use tax credits to send their children to private schools. If it receives around 340,000 signatures, the proposal will be included on the November ballot without the governor's signature. Whitmer in October had vetoed bills containing the school choice tax credits, which had been passed by the Michigan House and Senate, saying they created "tax shelters for the wealthy."

Democrats and members of national teachers' union organizations have consistently opposed school choice initiatives. President Joe Biden's Education Department drew fire in May when it proposed a cut to federal funding for some charter schools. School choice and educational voucher programs are supported in one form or another by more than 65 percent of public school parents. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy has also found school choice alternatives are more likely to serve poor or minority student populations in Michigan.

Michigan superintendent Michael Rice said the Michigan Student Opportunity Accounts program would "devastate" public schools and reduce state revenue by $500 million in the first year. But Mackinac Center for Public Policy director of education policy Ben DeGrow argued looking at only the revenue impact obscures the program’s overall fiscal effect.

"The State Board majority and superintendent have consistently taken the side of a broken K-12 system over the neglected needs of many students," DeGrow said. "Looking only at the revenue side ignores the fact that the program would have a very small fiscal impact, and likely a favorable one. ... The only way school systems would be devastated is if large numbers of students leave because they’re being poorly served."

The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on students as remote school reduced learning rates nationwide. A Harvard study released in May found K-12 students who attended school from home in the 2020-2021 school year lost 50 percent of their typical math curriculum learning.

More than 20 other states have enacted similar voucher programs. Funded by donations, the Michigan Student Opportunity Accounts would allow 90 percent of public school students to use tax credits on online classes, school supplies, tutoring and tuition, transportation, textbooks, and skilled training and CTE expenses.

"Every child deserves a fair shot to succeed, no matter their background, their family’s income, or their learning challenges," Let MI Kids Learn's website says.