The Detroit News. July 4, 2020.

True school choice still eludes Michigan

The U.S. Supreme Court last week made a stand for school choice and religious liberty. Yet while Michigan choice proponents can share in that victory from afar, families here aren’t likely to see any tangible change.

The ruling importantly will go a long way to ridding the country of the bigotry of Blaine amendments, anti-Catholic relics from the 19th century that still exist in 37 states in varying degrees. The 5-4 decision argued that states may not strike down school choice programs only because they allow parents to choose a faith-based school.

That’s what had happened in Montana, after that state’s Supreme Court struck down a tax-credit school choice program that allowed families to choose a religious school.

Kendra Espinoza of Kalispell, Montana, center, stands with her daughters Naomi and Sarah outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Washington. Espinoza is the lead plaintiff in a case the court heard Wednesday that could make it easier to use public money to pay for religious schooling in many states.

Kendra Espinoza, a single mother of two daughters, became the lead plaintiff in that case, since she had benefited from sending her children to a Christian school through the new program.

“The Court held that barring religious options in school choice programs violates the First Amendment’s protections for religious liberty,” according to a statement from the Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs in the case. “School choice programs must be neutral regarding religion and allow families to choose the educational placement that works best for their families.”

That’s where it gets tricky in Michigan, which is known for having one of the most restrictive Blaine amendments in the country. Our constitution is written in a way to prevent any public funds from reaching any nonpublic school — in any form.

As it states: “No public monies or property shall be appropriated or paid or any public credit utilized, by the legislature or any other political subdivision or agency of the state directly or indirectly to aid or maintain any private, denominational or other nonpublic, pre-elementary, elementary, or secondary school.”

Since it doesn’t explicitly block school choice programs based on religion, legal experts don’t don’t think the Espinoza decision will have any impact on lifting those restrictions.

That’s not stopping some private school leaders in Michigan from holding out some hope, however.

“I am hopeful that upon further analysis, the Espinoza decision will set in motion the process for eliminating Michigan’s discriminatory Blaine amendment which bans aid to nonpublic school students, the vast majority of which are Catholic and faith-based,” said Kevin Kijewski, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Detroit, in a social media post.

Kijewski also says he’s going to be paying close attention to what impact the High Court’s decision will have on a case before the Michigan Supreme Court related to reimbursing private schools for health and safety mandates required by the state. The state court had delayed a decision until the Espinoza ruling.

Ben DeGrow, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, isn’t expecting the Espinoza decision to have direct influence in Michigan. But he says the state is now part of a “small handful of outliers” when it comes to educational opportunity.

If nothing else, this decision should spur a renewed debate among Michiganians and lawmakers over changing the state’s constitution and finally giving families true school choice.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. July 5, 2020.

Risky reveling may hurt us all

Brace yourselves.

It appears we likely are set to receive a beating from the pandemic coronavirus that ground our nation, and much of the rest of the world, to a halt in recent months.

Don’t be surprised if the coming wave arrives in parallel with renewed restrictions on our leisure and work routines. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer already nudged downstate regions back a few steps last week when new infection numbers lent credence to concerns over a viral resurgence.

And it appears northern Michigan may be next.

The sad part is, the COVID-19 surge we likely will experience has far less to do with the virus’ virility and much more to do with our behavior. Throughout last week, infection numbers reported across the northern Lower Peninsula began to inch up.

Some of that rise was a result of increased testing in nursing homes, facilities particularly fertile for virus spread.

A small fraction likely was a reflection of our collective relaxing of social distance and mask routines.

Let’s face it, none of us is as careful today as we were in March when catastrophe seemed imminent.

Still, plenty of us entered the holiday week intent on relaxing carefully — gathering with small groups of friends, or enjoying some sun and water at our special hideaways.

But we can bank on the fact many infections reported during the coming weeks will be a result of Fourth of July weekend shenanigans. Specifically the holiday sun-and-water gorging that occurred on Torch Lake on Saturday. Thousands of holiday revelers and vacationers disavowed themselves of precaution to attend the annual sandbar party, a floating kegger that typically leaves behind enough litter and debris to keep volunteers busy for the better part of a day.

This time the party aftermath likely will include new COVID-19 infections near and far as partiers regain their inhibitions and split for home.

It doesn’t take much more than a little common sense and a pair of eyes to see the recipe baking its way into our future. It’s a frustrating reality in which we find ourselves.

We — the collective northern Michigan community — have endured months of restrictions, some self-imposed, to ensure our summer season brought a return to something closer to normal. And we did a pretty darn good job. Infections were relatively few, and state-imposed restrictions eased here before anywhere else.

The idea of a single weekend triggering the kind of backslide we’re watching unfold in other parts of the state and nation is downright depressing.

We hope it was worth it.

__ The Mining Journal (Marquette). July 1, 2020.

Neutral tuition impact should help NMU students

Setting tuition rates and dealing with financial matters are challenging processes, even in the best of times.

With the COVID-19 crisis, it’s more difficult.

That’s why we’re happy that Northern Michigan University has found a way to possibly have a zero net increase for many students this fall semester.

The NMU Board of Trustees on Tuesday increased tuition $215 per semester for resident undergrads, or 3.71%. However, two grants — one an NMU-funded grant and another using federal stimulus money from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund — could effectively lower that amount to $0 for the fall.

NMU President Fritz Erickson said it was important to keep an increase minimal because of the financial burden the COVID-19 pandemic has put on students and families. Of course, the future is unclear with state funding for fiscal year 2021 uncertain.

And of course, who knows what campus life will resemble in the fall? Should face-to-face teaching resume, safety protocols likely will have to be followed.

NMU already has invested more than $2 million in COVID-19-related safety measures, which is enabling students to return to face-to-face instruction. These include COVID testing for students and employees; new testing equipment for the NMU Health Center; health care staff for quarantine/isolation areas; and protective equipment and products.

Students returning to Northern for the 2020-21 school year have enough to worry about, what with their regular studies and what will probably be more COVID-19 issues. Lessening their financial burden should be a welcome relief.

NMU Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Mitchell said the zero net increase will benefit the university and the students.

We agree. NMU’s “neutral impact” way of dealing with tuition is an effective way of handling financial matters for students while keeping the university solvent, and should it continue into the winter semester, bodes well for the future.