Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
On Friday, columnist Ingrid Jacques of The Detroit News applauded a possible $1 million appropriation put forward by State Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw Township) that would be used to fund health and safety compliance at nonpublic schools. Jacques approvingly suggested that this could be a first step toward providing increased state funding for private and parochial schools going forward. She wrote that “[b]y blurring the line between public and private school dollars in this instance, it could open the door to broader discussions in the future.”
At the general election of November 1970, the people of Michigan adopted Proposal C, amending the state constitution to prohibit public aid to nonpublic schools (sometimes known as the “anti-Parochiaid Amendment”). This prohibition, contained in Article 8, section 2 of the Michigan Constitution of 1963, provides in part that “[n]o public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid . . . to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic . . . school,” and that “[n]o payment, credit, tax benefit, exemption or deductions, tuition voucher, subsidy, grant or loan of public monies or property shall be provided, directly or indirectly, to support the attendance of any student . . . at any such nonpublic school.” (Emphasis added.)
In November 2000, Michigan electors again rejected the idea of vouchers and public aid for private schools, voting 69% to 31% to keep school vouchers out of the state.
Rep. Tim Kelly—the chief supporter of the possible $1 million appropriation described above—is a vocal supporter of “school choice.” He has repeatedly expressed his preference for distributing state funds to private schools through a system of tuition vouchers or other similar payments, particularly in the city of Detroit. He has also described how he would circumvent the aforementioned constitutional language of Article 8, section 2 through a bit of clever legal maneuvering.
During an episode of WKAR’s Off the Record recorded last June, Kelly stated that he supports efforts to dissolve the Detroit Public Schools, declaring that the district is “bound for elimination one way or another” and that “they’ve had their opportunity and, quite honestly, I think that they’ve squandered that opportunity.” Kelly expressed his preference for bringing more “school choice” to Detroit, remarking that he would vote for a system of vouchers “in a heartbeat,” and that he “believe[s] in publicly funded education, not necessarily publicly delivered.”
In a follow-up segment, Kelly described how voucher proponents might evade the prohibition on public aid for nonpublic schools set forth in Article 8, section 2 of the Michigan Constitution: “I don’t think we have to [amend the constitution], quite frankly. . . . What’s ‘public’ mean? You know, maybe we need to expand the definition of ‘public.’ ”
Yes, you read that correctly. According to Kelly, it isn’t necessary for the people of Michigan to amend the state constitution in order to get rid of Article 8, section 2. Instead, voucher supporters can circumvent the provision by merely changing the definition of a word. So much for that famous Republican allegiance to “plain language” and “original intent.” Kelly’s comment about altering the original meaning of Article 8, section 2 by simply changing the definition of “public” smacks of Orwellian doublespeak.
Of course, this should not surprise anyone. People like Kelly and Jacques—individuals who believe that Michigan taxpayers should be forced to spend tax dollars on private and religious schools—have always sought to undercut our state constitution. And the attack on Article 8, section 2 is far from over.
Voucher supporters view Detroit as ground zero for their schemes, and current legislative plans to reorganize the Detroit Public Schools provide them just the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. After all, the idea of spending state money for private-school tuition is easier to sell in an area where the existing public schools are portrayed as “failing” by the school-choice propagandists. But don’t be fooled; the insidious designs of voucher proponents reach far beyond the city limits of Detroit. In the end, they want to implement vouchers throughout the state.
Kelly has indicated that he might explore the option of running for Speaker of the House in his next term. And there are many others like him who share the same views. As we have seen time after time, the Speaker of the House is instrumental in shaping state policy and determining which legislation will proceed.
All 110 seats in the Michigan House of Representatives are up for election this fall. More than ever, it is imperative that we support pro-public-education candidates and stop people like Tim Kelly from gaining majority leadership positions in the next Legislature. The sanctity of our state constitution and the continued existence of public schools just might depend on it.