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Voucher Amendment Proposed

A petition is circulating to amend the Michigan constitution. The proposed amendment would remove a constitutional provision prohibiting even indirect state aid to private schools and would mandate a government-funded voucher system.

The amendment mandates vouchers for tuition at private schools in districts with high dropout rates. Amount of the voucher would be equal to the lesser of (a) the actual private school tuition or (b) one half the amount of state and local money spent per pupil. Teachers at private schools accepting voucher money must take a legislature-approved test of “knowledge in academic subjects.” In addition, the amendment requires the legislature to adopt laws governing the implementation of the program.

In districts where vouchers are not mandated, vouchers may be adopted by a school board vote or citizen initiative. Because the constitutional prohibition would be removed, the legislature may pass laws permitting tuition tax credits and other forms of indirect aid.

What would be the result of these changes? On one hand, the amendment may broaden parent choice. It may enable poor parents to afford private school, and new private schools may spring up to meet this demand.

On the other hand, the amendment may narrow parent choice. Schools accepting vouchers and inevitable government control may attract such a large portion of the available student market that they drive nonvoucher schools out of business. Schools that cherish their freedom and are truly autonomous may cease to exist in some districts. The government carrot of free money controls much in our country where the Constitution would prohibit use of a government stick.

That is something that home school parents should keep in mind as they consider the possibility that home schools operating as “non-public schools” and teaching students not part of the household may be eligible to receive voucher money. Throughout history, whenever a government “gives away” public money, an expectation inevitably arises that the government will control and regulate its beneficiaries. If home school families benefit from vouchers, the few voices now calling for regulation of home schooling may multiply. Valuable freedoms may be jeopardized.

Because the voucher system may lead to sympathy for greater regulation of home schooling, Home School Legal Defense Association cannot support the proposal as a whole. However, HSLDA is not actively opposing the measure. Some of our members support the proposal because it will help children exit the public school system and will permit the adoption of tax credits. – Scott A. Woodruff