Albert resigns as House appropriations chair, calls new spending plan 'reckless'

Michigan judge extends freeze on private school aid

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

A Michigan judge on Wednesday extended her temporary freeze on state funding for private schools as she continues to consider a request for a longer injunction.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens extended the order in a verbal ruling during a hearing in Detroit, a court spokesman confirmed.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is among a handful of groups who sued the state in March seeking to block a $2.5 million budget appropriation designed to reimburse private schools for state mandates, including immunization and compliance drills.

“This is a very important decision from the judge, even though it is not a final one, because without an order the state would have been free to start distributing money directly to private schools, which would be unprecedented in Michigan’s constitutional history,” said ACLU attorney Dan Korobkin.

Plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction to block the fiscal year 2017 funding as the case moves forward in court, arguing the appropriation violates the Michigan Constitution, which prohibits most direct or indirect aid for private schools.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other advocates say the appropriation is legally sound because the budget specifies the private school funding is for purposes “noninstructional in character” and for “ensuring the health, safety and welfare” of students.

The current-year budget signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder includes $2.5 million for the mandate reimbursements. Snyder did not request additional funding for fiscal year 2018, but the budget proposal approved last month by the GOP-led Legislature includes another $2.5 million for private schools.

The lawsuit has been slowed as third-party groups that support the funding attempt to intervene in the case, a matter currently before the state appeals court. Stephens asked attorneys file additional briefs by the middle of July and hopes to decide on the preliminary injunction request by the end of the month, Korobkin said.