Group files complaints against districts

Charges officials with using public money to fight voucher plan

Some Michigan school districts are illegally using public education tax dollars for political purposes, say proponents of a school voucher proposal Michigan voters will decide in November.

In a criminal complaint filed in April with the Secretary of State, Kids First! Yes! charged that officials of the Oakland Intermediate School District (ISD) violated the law when they conducted a "sustained and organized communications campaign against Kids First! Yes! involving e-mails, video presentations, and PowerPoint slide shows."

Michigan law prohibits the expenditure of "public monies to influence political campaigns."

The complaint alleges Oakland ISD violated the public trust by:

 Adopting a resolution against the voucher proposal;

 Creating and showing a biased presentation containing misrepresentations of the proposal; and

 Using tax-funded ISD resources to disseminate anti-Kids First! Yes! material and solicit letters to the editor against the proposal.

Kids First! Yes! also has filed a similar complaint against Kearsley Community Schools Superintendent Jeffry Morgan and Board of Education President Richard Putvin for improperly using a January 2000 school newsletter to advocate against the voucher proposal.

Other school districts also have publicly expressed objections to the voucher proposal. State-funded vouchers are bad because "private and religious schools [that accepted vouchers] are not subject to any oversight from any elected official," writes Gobles Public Schools Superintendent Tom Saylor in a recent district newsletter.

Publications by Grand Haven Public Schools and the Kent ISD make similar charges in recommending citizens reject the voucher proposal in November.

But these charges have no basis in fact, according to Glen Walstra, executive director of the Michigan Association of Non-Public Schools, which represents 140,000 students in Catholic, Lutheran-Missouri Synod, and Christian Schools International schools.

"We are accountable to the government in several compliance areas," Walstra told MER. "We voluntarily submit ourselves to plenty of government oversight.

"All of our schools adhere to state health and safety standards, teacher certification, and a voluntary disclosure of what is going on in our schools," adds Walstra. "In addition, many nonpublic schools participate in federal Title programs, which subject us to additional government rules and regulations."

Kids First! Yes! communications director Greg McNeilly says the complaints filed against Oakland and Kearsley are to ensure a fair and honest debate on the voucher issue. He adds that school districts should stop using education money for political purposes. "That money should be going into the classroom," he says.

State officials have yet to rule on the complaints.