Once again, actions by Michigan state legislators are causing dismay among many supporters of public education. This time it's the decision to give taxpayer dollars to private schools.
State House and Senate budgets both include money for private schools to help cover the costs of state mandates such as the verification of immunization records, scheduling criminal background reports for employees, and requiring fire, tornado and lockdown drills for the protection of students.
The House budget added $1 million to help private schools; the Senate upped the sum to $5 million—$50 per pupil. In the end, a committee decided to direct $2.5 million of public school funds to reimburse private schools for the costs of meeting mandates.
That's the sum for private schools. And public schools? They don't receive any extra money.
The arguments that have ensued relate to a state constitutional ban on using taxpayer's dollars for private education. A few Morenci teachers made that case in letters to Rep. Nancy Jenkins, but she responded that a 1971 court case clears the path for the transfer of funds away from public schools. That ruling approved funding for something that "is incidental to the education of private school students," she wrote, and is therefore permissible.
We would like to take the argument in a different direction. Whether or not it's constitutionally permissible doesn't bother us as much as the basic concept of doing it. How can Rep. Jenkins possibly think that it's right to use public funds for a school that's not open to every student? A much better solution is for private schools to raise their tuition rates high enough to cover the costs of operation.
If you're a supporter of private schools, it probably doesn't bother you to know that a portion of your taxes is going to help non-public education. If, on the other hand, your children attend a public school, you should be taking pen to paper or sending e-mail to Rep. Nancy Jenkins and Sen. Dale Zorn. Remind them that like many Michigan schools, our local school district is hurting through a lack of adequate financial support. Stop diverting public money away from public schools to support private schools and charter schools.