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“Parochiaid” case argued before MI Court of Claims

cBeechy/Creative Commons

A Michigan Court of Claims judge heard arguments Monday on whether it’s ever legal for the state to allow public funds to go to non-public schools.

The central issue is an appropriation adopted by the Legislature in 2016 and signed by then-Governor Rick Snyder. It was to reimburse parochial and private schools for the costs of complying with state health and safety mandates.

The legal challenge to that budget item argues that violated the state constitution, which includes a voter-approved amendment that bars public funds going to non-public schools.

Assistant Attorney General Neil Giovanatti defended the budget item, arguing the ban on public funds should apply only to instructional costs.

“The appropriations under the statute at issue here are intended for the public purpose of protecting the health, safe and welfare of children in non-public schools,” he said. He also said courts should defer to the Legislature’s interpretation of the amendment.

This is the second time this particular case has been before the Court of Claims after the Michigan Supreme Court sent it back down the legal chain to get answers to more questions.

Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens says she plans to rule by early December.

“And then I can give you a Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice gift of your ticket to the Court of Appeals,” she said. “And from there to the Supreme Court, if they believe it is an issue of public importance on which they should make a ruling.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.