"Family Walking” by Nick Amoscato is licensed under CC BY 2.0. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Family_Walking_(46675490194).jpg

Earlier this week, lawmakers in Michigan passed legislation to give low-income families flexibility over their children’s schooling. Now Gretchen Whitmer will have to decide who she values more, students or the teachers unions. https://www.facebook.com/plugins/quote.php?app_id=&channel=https%3A%2F%2Fstaticxx.facebook.com%2Fx%2Fconnect%2Fxd_arbiter%2F%3Fversion%3D46%23cb%3Df1a31a76f97a1ec%26domain%3Dwww.atr.org%26is_canvas%3Dfalse%26origin%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.atr.org%252Ff21af76036a10d8%26relation%3Dparent.parent&container_width=567&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.atr.org%2Fmichigan-supports-parents-does-gretchen-whitmer&locale=en_US&sdk=joey

This began with the recent introduction of four bills to the Michigan Legislature and voted on today, SB 687, SB 688, HB 5404, and HB 5405. These bills allow students across the state to access Opportunity Scholarships.  Michigan would have given taxpayer dollars back to low-income parents to pay tuition for non-public  opportunities. These options would provide families with more flexibility in their children’s education, letting them choose the place they think gives the best education. 

Opportunity scholarships are a type of Educational Savings Account, a form of school choice that eight states have already enacted. According to EdChoice, “Education savings accounts (ESAs) allow parents to withdraw their children from public district or charter schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple uses.”  

One of the most recent states to pass ESAs was West Virginia. Their New Hope Scholarship program, which launches in 2022, provides students up to $4,600 to use in various approved services, including ones from out-of-state providers. Other states have experimented with ESAs, but “these scholarship programs have generally been limited by geographical area or to particular populations of students or families (such as children with disabilities or those from a military background).” 

Michigan’s is available to students across the state, giving parents more power in their children’s education. “Because of government policies, many parents can only afford to send their children to government schools, thus limiting those parents’ ability to direct their children’s education,” said Michelle Lupanoff , a Michigan parent with two High School-aged children, “The ability to use the funds in our education accounts will reduce our financial burden to pay for private school.” 

“Being able to use funds from our education account would help provide more financial security for our family and our children’s future,” said Jill Hill, mother of a first grader in Kalamazoo. “From this current situation, we know the future is unpredictable, so if we can use that savings now it would provide even more security down the road.” 

The head of education policy at the Mackinac Center, Ben Degrow also supports the new bills, saying, “The Student Opportunity Scholarship plan deserves full support. Enacting the program would offer more than a million Michigan students the sort of broad access to education options that’s already available in many other states.”  

For too long, the government has limited school choice to only those with the money to escape the public school system. Those without funds were stuck with their district, regardless of quality. Giving low-income parents the power to choose is a great way to orient schooling toward the needs of the children, not the unions. 

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. A spokesperson for Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the “legislation is a non-starter,” claiming that “these bills are voucher schemes that have been shamelessly introduced during a pandemic, that would send Michigan taxpayer dollars mainly to private and religious schools.” 

The bills were passed on Thursday, October 20, and will soon arrive at the desk of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who can either choose to sign them or to veto them. The teachers’ unions are one of Whitmer’s biggest donors, and “this year alone, Whitmer has vetoed two proposals to fund students rather than systems with federal COVID-19 relief money,” according to the Hill.  

Michigan’s push for school choice is the most recent step in a movement gaining momentum across the country as more parents recognize that the public school system isn’t serving their students’ needs. Letting parents choose where their children can go to school is a no-brainer to give the power to people, not the government.  

When the bills reach her desk, Gretchen Whitmer will have to make a choice between the needs of students and the needs of her donors.