Judge upholds ruling barring state money for private schools

A state judge has upheld an earlier ruling that puts a stop – for now – to state of Michigan plans to provide public money to private schools to help them cover the cost of complying with state mandates.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens on July 6 had issued a preliminary injunction but asked lawyers on both sides to submit briefs to address a crucial question: Whether the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which found that a Missouri church should be eligible to compete in a state grant program for playground resurfacing, applies in the Michigan case.

Some have argued that it should. But Stephens, in a ruling issued Tuesday, said:

"At this preliminary stage of the present case, this Court is disinclined to extend the Trinity Lutheran decision to a case that plainly does not involve express discrimination."

At issue in the Michigan case is $2.5 million in public funding that the Michigan Legislature last year allocated to nonpublic schools to help them cover the cost of complying with state mandates. The Legislature allocated an additional $2.5 million this year.

The lawsuit contends, among other things, that the public funding for private schools violates the state Constitution.

The state constitution says: "No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid ... directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary or secondary school."

The lawsuit was filed in March by 13 education-related organizations, including the Michigan Association of School Boards, the Michigan Association of School Administrators and the Michigan School Business Officials.

The defendants: the state of Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder, the Michigan Department of Education and State Superintendent Brian Whiston.

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Contact Lori Higgins: 313-222-6651, lhiggins@freepress.com or @LoriAHiggins

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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