School choice initiative clears signature hurdle for November ballot in Michigan

(The Center Square) – Let MI Kids Learn filed more than 520,000 signatures with the Michigan Bureau of Elections to put an education choice initiative on this November’s general election ballot.

If the ballot initiative is approved by voters, the Michigan legislature can approve the initiative immediately. Previously, both the state House and Senate passed the bill similar to what 21 states have as law, but Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declined to sign it.

If it becomes law, Let MI Kids Learn would establish Student Opportunity Accounts. Eligibility requirements include qualifying for free-and-reduced school lunch, families at or below 200% of the free-and-reduced lunch eligibility, and students with disabilities.

The accounts could be used for online classes; Wi-Fi and laptops; tutoring and tuition; transportation; skilled training and career and technical education expenses; textbooks and curriculum materials; summer school and afterschool programs; occupational, behavioral, and speech therapies; mental health services.

“We’re looking forward to our initiative being swiftly canvassed by the Bureau of Elections and promptly certified by the Board of State Canvassers,” Fred Wszolek, Let MI Kids Learn spokesman, said in a statement.

“There is plenty of time for the Legislature to enact these proposals into law before the end of the year. Special interest groups fought hard to keep this day from ever happening. But you can’t stop an idea whose time has come,” said Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for the campaign.

Once the MBE canvasses the petitions to ensure sufficient valid signatures have been submitted, the petition will be certified by the Board of State Canvassers and placed on the ballot.

“This is the day that parents and families have been working for, and I am excited to know that change is on its way,” Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, said in a statement. “We’ve witnessed the difficulties many children have faced these past two years and how each child learns differently. But every child deserves a chance to catch up on the learning they lost, and the public school system isn’t the only place where that can happen,” she said.

Michigan Democratic Party released its own opposition statement on behalf of Chairwoman Lavora Barnes.

“Today, Let MI Kids Learn submitted petition signatures for the purpose of circumventing Governor Whitmer’s ability to protect our children from private interests,” Barnes said. “Betsy Devos [sic] and her cronies are attempting to dismantle public education and reduce the resources for dedicated teachers who serve in the best interest of our children everyday [sic]. Michigan children deserve a well-funded public education, and any effort to divert public school funding for private interests is unacceptable.”

Barnes was referring to Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, who served as secretary of education in former President Donald Trump’s cabinet. DeVos is a funder of Let MI Kids Learn.

The group also announced Wednesday afternoon it’s close to filing signatures for another ballot initiative that would institute an income tax credit for scholarship fund contributions. Whitmer also vetoed a similar initiative previously passed by the House and Senate.