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Opinion: Students should be safe wherever they learn

Brian D. Broderick

In 2016 the Michigan Legislature passed, with bipartisan support, funding to reimburse nonpublic schools for complying with state mandates that ensure the health, safety and general welfare of school children.

The Legislature passed similar funding in subsequent years so that now a total of $5.25 million has been appropriated, though none of it has been disbursed to Michigan nonpublic schools (serving over 100,000 students) due to a lawsuit filed by several public school groups challenging its constitutionality.

Thankfully the efforts of some to treat students differently based on where their tax-paying parents send them to school are coming to an end.

We believe the Legislature appropriately exercised its authority to reimburse nonpublic schools for state-imposed health and safety requirements, Broderick writes.

Last week the Michigan Supreme Court, in a 3-3 decision, upheld a Court of Appeals ruling that the funding is constitutional. Three justices agreed that the reimbursement for these health and safety mandates are incidental to teaching, are not primary for a nonpublic school to exist and do not result in excessive religious entanglement.

This rightfully becomes the common sense standard to ensure the health and well-being of all K-12 students and supersedes the seemingly endless and trivial debates over whether or not the state has an obligation to treat all school children equitably when it comes to protecting their well-being.

The budget appropriations have been a recognition that the health and safety of all students is important. It is the latest development in a welcome movement toward protecting children during the school day, regardless of the building in which they are educated.

We have seen this same construct play out in the COVID-19 pandemic with health orders coming from the state government that apply equally to public and nonpublic schools, all in an effort to protect Michigan’s school children.

It is clear that state policymakers are obligated to create and fund equitable health and safety requirements for all children in Michigan. 

The issue now goes back before the Court of Claims to examine over two dozen mandates such as those requiring criminal backgrounds on school employees, conducting safety drills, and maintaining immunization records, to name a few. 

Nonpublic schools incur costs to carry out these mandates which the Legislature rightly has acknowledged. 

We believe the Legislature appropriately exercised its authority to reimburse nonpublic schools for state-imposed health and safety requirements. It has helped to foster a conversation about greater collaboration between all education providers to further school safety for all of Michigan’s kids.

The Legislature and now the courts have simply recognized the very public function “nonpublic” schools serve — namely, to educate over 100,000 Michigan students in a safe environment.

Brian D. Broderick, is the executive director of the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools, representing the legislative interests of some 90,000 students enrolled in approximately 400 of Michigan’s non-public schools.