School spending ruling appealed

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is appealing a judge’s decision to block $5 million in state spending to defray the cost of inspections and other government safety requirements at private schools, saying the expenses can “financially cripple” such schools.

Schuette filed his motion for an expedited hearing in the state appeals court on behalf of the state and other defendants such as Gov. Rick Snyder.

He acted more than two weeks after Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens ruled that 2016 and 2017 budget laws violate the state constitution’s ban against direct or indirect aid to private schools.

“Forcing the high cost of state-mandated inspections and other safety measures on nonpublic schools only serves to financially cripple schools and reduce choices for parents and children,” said Schuette, a Republican candidate for governor, who seeks a ruling by Aug. 15, the deadline by which the state is supposed to disburse the money in the current fiscal year.

The lawsuit contesting the enacted spending was filed in 2017 by public school groups. A 1970 voter-approved amendment to Michigan's constitution prohibits using public money to directly or indirectly aid or maintain parochial and other private schools being attended by roughly 100,000 students.

In March, a group that includes a Catholic school in Grand Rapids, parents and GOP lawmakers challenged the 1970 ban.

The plaintiffs said it was deeply rooted in anti-Catholic sentiment and violates the U.S. Constitution in a number of ways, including equal protection and free speech.

Schuette’s office recently asked for that case to be dismissed, saying such arguments were rejected by the Michigan Supreme Court more than 45 years ago.

Spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said while the constitutionality of the ban is “settled,” Schuette believes it is legal to help nonpublic schools with costs for health, safety and welfare regulations.

Schuette’s appeal drew criticism from Democrats. House Minority Leader Sam Singh of East Lansing said he had “chosen to waste time and taxpayer dollars on a fool’s errand to take resources away from public schools.”