Tax credits for private school scholarships? Initiative submits 520k signatures.

LANSING, MI – A proposed ballot initiative to allow Michiganders to fund private education programs with tax credits submitted more than half a million signatures Wednesday, hoping to send it to the Republican-controlled legislature.

By submitting signatures after the deadline to qualify for the November ballot, leaders of Let MI Kids Learn can encourage lawmakers to take it up, as passing it that way avoids the veto pen of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

“Change is coming to offer more educational choices,” said spokesperson Amy Hawkins.

Let MI Kids Learn would let people claim tax credits and pool that money toward private programs for K-12 students. In two petitions, it establishes the law and sets a maximum yearly amount.

These “scholarships,” Hawkins said, would give public school students up to $500 and students with disabilities up to $1,100 for “additional resources” on top of their normal education.

“These scholarships can be used for tutoring, transportation, tuition, mental health support, special needs therapies, skilled trades training, and the list goes on and on,” she said.

Private school students could get 90% of the annual public school per-pupil funding amount: currently $8,700.

The proposal sets a maximum $500 million in total tax credits per year and requires that annual limit to increase by 20% if at least 90% of the previous year’s credits were claimed.

Hawkins said 520,598 signatures were submitted Wednesday for one petition, well above the 340,047 needed. Signatures went through a multilevel quality control process, she added, to identify invalid ones before the Bureau of Elections’ official check. The Board of State Canvassers then needs to approve before the initiative goes to the legislature.

Signatures for the other petition will come soon, Hawkins said, as leaders want the legislature to take it up this year.

State Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, said the program would help students overcome lost learning from the COVID-19 pandemic, “and the parents are the ones who are being given the power to help their children.”

Critics, however, say the initiative is a voucher program that will sap money from public education and let tax credits fund private school tuition.

“This voucher proposal will only make the situation worse by taking away hundreds of millions of dollars every year from our local schools,” said Casandra Ulbrich, for opposition group For MI Kids, For Our Schools, “and giving the funding to for- profit private schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers.”

Her group cites a study that argues K-12 public schools will lose state funding for each student who transfers to a private school and that students from wealthier families will likely benefit more than those who are low-income or middle class.

The initiative has the backing of former US education secretary Betsy Devos, the politically powerful West Michigan conservative, plus former Republican Vice President Mike Pence.

Let MI Kids Learn is the sixth citizen-proposed law or constitutional amendment to submit signatures this year. A payday loan reform initiative made the June 1 ballot deadline but failed signature inspection, and a voter ID proposal and a proposed minimum wage hike await their fate.

Two constitutional amendments – one to codify abortion rights and one to increase voting access – are expected to know by the end of August whether they will make the November ballot.

Read more from MLive:

Michigan voter ID initiative submits 500k signatures too late for election

$15 minimum wage initiative submits 610k signatures for 2024 ballot

Michigan abortion rights, voting vote voting decisions expected in August

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