Letter: Non-public schools serve ‘public’ function

Non-public schools throughout Michigan applaud the Michigan Legislature for appropriating with bipartisan support $2.5 million from the General Fund to reimburse non-public schools for dozens of health and safety mandates placed on them by state government.

Recognizing that the health and safety of all students is important, the Legislature also approved funding, sponsored by a Democrat, for lead testing at public and non-public schools. Additionally, for the second time in three years, non-public schools are eligible to apply for Michigan State Police grants for school safety measures.

Michigan is beginning to emulate other states, notably New York and Ohio, by providing a small measure of financial support to non-public schools for health and safety requirements. It is a recognition of the very “public” function these schools serve — that is, educating Michigan students.

Constitutional concerns raised by critics of these proposals are unfounded. Language in next fiscal year’s state budget regarding mandates specifically says the dollars are not for instruction or to “aid and maintain” nonpublic schools, “support the attendance of any student” or “employ any person” at a non-public school. This is the exact prohibition language found in Article VIII Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution.

Claims by some public school officials that public schools do not get “extra” money for compliance with state health and safety mandates are confounding. The 2016-17 School Aid budget is a whopping $14.1 billion. Presumably, somewhere in that funding public school administrators allocate the costs of complying with state requirements. Public school advocacy groups have even sought to argue that private businesses such as restaurants comply with state mandates but do not receive funding. This neglects the fact that state government does not operate and fund dining establishments in competition with private interests. It is a comparison without merit.

Michigan lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle clearly have a philosophical leaning toward protecting the health, safety and welfare of all Michigan students, regardless of where they attend school. Support for these appropriations is a valuable use of state tax dollars to protect the health and safety of every Michigan student.

Brian Broderick

executive director

Michigan Association

of Non-Public Schools