Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vetoed a legislative package that would have granted tax credits for contributions to scholarship programs that could help low-income students to have a private school education they may not have otherwise been able to afford.
Collectively, the Senate Bills 687 and 688 and House Bills 5404 and 5405 would create Michigan Opportunity Scholarship Accounts that could be used by families to cover education expenses, including those related to non-public schools, courses, and programs. Michigan residents and businesses who donate to the scholarship accounts would receive a state tax credit equal to the value of their contribution.
Once established, the scholarships would prioritize students most in need, including those receiving free and reduced lunch, those living in foster care, and those with disabilities.
Whitmer, a Democrat, promised last month to veto the Republican-sponsored school choice bills, which the Democratic minority in the state legislature argue would have steered public money into private education.
“Simply put, our schools cannot provide the high-quality education our kids deserve if we turn private schools into tax shelters for the wealthy,” Whitmer said in her Nov. 5 veto message. “The movement to privatize education in this state has been a catastrophic failure, causing Michigan students to fall behind the rest of the nation.”
The Republicans decried the veto, saying that their plan was meant to help students get better educational outcomes after more than a year of school closures and the resulting stress, anxiety, and learning loss.
“Instead of empowering parents to give students—especially students with special needs or from underserved communities—better opportunities to learn and succeed, the governor has again rejected progress for the same old, tired, and failing approach to education, because she is beholden to the teachers’ unions and their generous donations,” said Republican state Sen. Lana Theis, who chairs the Michigan Senate Education Committee, said in a statement following the veto.
The Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest public sector union representing about 120,000 public school employees, applauded Whitmer’s decision. MEA President Paula Herbart criticized the Republican scholarship plan, characterizing it as an “unconstitutional school voucher.”
Herbart claimed that the plan would only benefit wealthy donors like Betsy DeVos, a Michigan-born billionaire whose tenure as the U.S. Secretary of Education was marked by increased federal support for charter and private schools.
“Michigan voters have resoundingly opposed attempts by mega-donors like Betsy DeVos to enact voucher schemes in our state,” Herbart said. “We value our neighborhood public schools and know that funneling money to private schools does nothing to provide equal opportunity for Michigan students.”