Public aid for private schools lands at Michigan’s top court

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DETROIT — The Michigan Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a dispute over public aid for private schools.

The case involves more than $2 million set aside for private schools by the Republican-controlled Legislature when Rick Snyder was governor. Lawmakers said the money would help schools comply with health, safety and welfare rules.

Critics say the Michigan Constitution clearly states that no public money can aid a private school. A judge blocked the spending, but the state appeals court in 2018 said tax dollars can go to the schools in some circumstances.

The case is on the Supreme Court’s docket Tuesday afternoon.

State attorneys, who represent the state when laws are challenged, have changed their position in the litigation since Dana Nessel, a Democrat, succeeded Bill Schuette, a Republican, as attorney general.

In a court filing, Deputy Solicitor General Eric Restuccia said the Supreme Court should allow reimbursement only for transportation-related costs.

In a separate filing, Nessel argued that the entire provision is unconstitutional.

“The people of the state have spoken clearly about not wanting public funds to be directed toward nonpublic schools. Their voice must be heard and protected,” Nessel said.

The lawsuit was filed by statewide groups representing school boards and public school administrators as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and the Kalamazoo school district.

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