February 2021 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled in late December that the state government may give public funds to private schools to reimburse them for the costs of various state-mandated services.

Opponents asserted that the funding violates an amendment that was added to the Michigan Constitution in 1970 that bars tax funding of private (including religious) education. The high court, however, held that the funding is permissible because it is a form of reimbursement, not direct aid.

Justice Stephen Markman asserted that the appropriation covered “health, safety, and welfare” mandates that private schools must meet. The funding, he wrote, “merely mitigate[s] the effect of burdens imposed in the first place by the state for the health, safety, and welfare of nonpublic-school students,” reported the Detroit News.

The vote was 3-3 because one justice had recused himself. The tie vote means that a lower-court opinion that upheld the aid will stand.

The dissenting justices held that the funding violated the state constitution. “For a nonpublic school, or any other organization in Michigan, complying with general health, safety and welfare laws is just a cost of doing business,” wrote Justice Megan Cavanagh for the dissenters.

Michigan voters in 1970 approved a constitutional amendment to bar tax aid to religious institutions. It passed 57-43 percent. In 1978 and 2000, voters rejected ballot measures to implement voucher plans in the state. (Council of Organizations and Others for Education About Parochiaid v. State of Michigan)