OK for school boards to denounce voucher proposal

But state will fine districts that use public resources on politics

The Michigan Department of State announced in August that school boards do not violate state law when they pass resolutions against Proposal 1, a school voucher initiative that will appear on the November ballot.

Secretary of State Candice Miller made it clear, however, that public school officials are not allowed to use public funds or resources to support or oppose any ballot question.

This decision follows a July 24 ruling that the Grand Haven, Kearsley, and Oakland Intermediate school districts violated election laws by using public resources to criticize Proposal 1. Employees in these districts used presentations, e-mails, and postal resources to voice their opposition to the initiative. The state warned that it is prepared to fine districts if these activities continue.

ALL Kids First!, a group that opposes vouchers, says 76 school boards so far have passed resolutions against Proposal 1.

This State Department's announcement nevertheless was seen as a boost for Kids First! Yes!, the ballot committee promoting Proposal 1. The committee recently received endorsements from Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, Michigan Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus, and the Catholic Campaign for America. Watts, attending a town hall meeting in Holland, said Proposal 1 offers "a visionary renewal of public education." Posthumus broke ranks with Gov. Engler to support the measure.

The Michigan Catholic Church has contributed $765,000 to the pro-voucher campaign, $450,000 of which came from the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Meanwhile, ALL Kids First! picked up the support of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce and former Gov. James Blanchard, who was named as an honorary chair of the anti-school choice group. Other honorary chairs are State Board of Education President Dorothy Beardmore and Dr. Charles G. Adams, former president of the Detroit NAACP.

ALL Kids First! has received over $500,000 in contributions from individuals and organizations across Michigan. The 2.5 million-member National Education Association school employees' union earmarked $750,000 in its 1999-2000 budget to assist ALL Kids First!'s efforts to defeat Proposal 1. At its recent convention, the NEA also approved a dues increase on members to raise an additional $7.5 million, much of which will be used to oppose voucher initiatives in states such as Michigan and California.