Defeated voucher-style grants reinforce need for Whitmer tutoring plan

On Tuesday, the Michigan House of Representatives voted down House Bill 5859, which would have created a pseudo-voucher system to provide private tutoring programs for students, diverting taxpayer money away from public schools and into the pockets of private, for-profit vendors with little oversight.

The bill, which was strongly opposed by MEA and other education groups, was defeated by a vote of 56-51, with all Democrats and five Republicans standing together against the measure.

“Our schools have gotten the short end of the stick time and time again over the past decade,” state Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township) said. “Public school students, parents and educators deserve better than tired voucher schemes that hinge on defunding our neighborhood schools. I want to ensure students get the extra support they need, but there’s a better way to do that through Gov. Whitmer’s MI Kids Back on Track plan.”

The MI Kids Back on Track plan, announced on May 23 by Gov. Whitmer, would support students with additional tutoring in the wake of the pandemic by investing $280 million of Michigan’s $3 billion in additional revenue to tackle unfinished learning through tutoring programs before, during or after school.

MEA supports this vastly superior plan because it puts money directly in the hands of local schools where educators can ensure students are getting support that aligns with their specific needs in the classroom – not mandate contracts with private, for-profit vendors with little accountability or oversight.

From federal school relief funding to higher-than-anticipated state revenue estimates, Michigan has an abundance of resources on the table to tackle this issue without raiding the School Aid Fund.

“Providing tutoring and other support for our students after a tough few years of learning is absolutely something I support,” Witwer said. “But it can’t come at the expense of other forms of education funding. We have billions of dollars of additional revenue right now, let’s put that to use.”

Along with all the Democratic representatives, the five House GOP members who voted against HB 5859 were Reps. Sue Allor (R-Wolverine), Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), Steven Johnson (R-Wayland Twp.), John Reilly (R-Oakland) and Scott VanSingel (R-Grant).

Of note, while this was another voucher-style scheme to funnel public money to private companies, it is separate from the DeVos-backed “Let MI Kids Learn” voucher ballot measure. That effort is still collecting signatures after missing a key deadline on June 1 for this fall’s ballot. They still intend to submit signatures and urge the Legislature to approve their “scholarship” scheme without letting it go to the ballot — against the wishes of voters, based on recent polling.

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