The Michigan Public Education Finance Project, an effort to create a new school aid act to direct how public school funding works in Michigan, is still not about vouchers, despite the attempts by some school officials to continue pretending that it is.
One of them is Dr. Vickie Markavitch, superintendent of Oakland County’s intermediate school district. As such, she commands one of the state’s largest public school bureaucracies: Oakland Schools oversees about 195,000 students in 45 districts and charter schools that receive almost $2 billion annually.
Apparently reacting to a draft of legislation produced by the Oxford Foundation, the group charged by Gov. Rick Snyder to head this school funding reform, Patch.com reported that Markavitch claimed “profiteers” were spending “millions of dollars” to get “public money for private forms of education.” She added, “In the old days this was called vouchers and the American people defeated this soundly. And, in Michigan it was defeated not once, but twice.”
Markavitch only gets one thing right here. Targeted private school voucher programs were defeated at the ballot box twice in Michigan — once in 1978 and once in 2000. But there is no group spending any money attempting to bring school vouchers to Michigan. If there were, they would have to do it through a ballot initiative and amend the Michigan Constitution, because a voucher program (and, in fact, any direct or indirect financial support for private and independent schools) would be unconstitutional. One might reasonably expect someone in Markavitch’s position to know this.
But she’s also wrong to assert that the American people have “soundly” rejected vouchers. On the contrary, support for private school vouchers in the United States is at an all-time high. Consider that last year Indiana and Louisiana passed the two largest school voucher programs in this nation’s history. They weren’t alone though: Altogether, 42 states in 2011 created or expanded private school choice programs like vouchers or introduced legislation that would. The Wall Street Journal called 2011 “The Year of School Choice.”
School vouchers and other private school choice programs also have won major legal victories since their 2000 defeat at the ballot box in Michigan. The nation’s highest court upheld both school vouchers and education tax credits for private school enrollment based on programs in Cleveland in 2002 and Arizona in 2011, respectively.
Instead of using the the voucher red herring, public school officials should educate taxpayers, who pay their salaries after all, about the merits and shortcomings of the Oxford Foundation’s proposed new school aid act. Michigan needs a healthy discussion of how best to improve school funding — not more misleading talking points.