The Michigan Catholic Conference is pleased with a recent state Supreme Court decision that requires a lower court to review the constitutionality of a state program which reimburses non-public schools for the costs that the schools incur to comply with health and safety mandates.
The Dec. 28 split 3-3 decision means that the Court of Claims will review the program.
"We're pleased that the Court of Appeals decision has been upheld and that the Section 152b has been found constitutional by the state's highest court," David Malachnik, the vice president for communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said Dec. 28. The Michigan Catholic Conference serves as the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in the state.
"Since the case has been remanded to the Court of Claims, our hope would be for the Court to quickly dispense with its review in order to allow for nonpublic schools to access the long-awaited funding," he said.
The Michigan Catholic Conference believes "that every student in Michigan should be treated equally in terms of health and safety," regardless of which type of school they attend, Malachnik added.
The Supreme Court was tied after Justice Elizabeth Clement recused herself from the case due to a conflict of interest; she had been a legal counsel to the governor when he signed into law the reimbursement.
The lawsuit stems from the 2016 appropriation of $2.5 million by the Michigan legislature to non-public schools for reimbursements for complying with state-mandated programs.
The distribution of these funds, however, was blocked in 2017 when a group representing public schools filed suit. The Michigan legislature continued to appropriate funds to non-public schools, despite the pending lawsuit.
Approximately $5.5 million has been appropriated to non-public schools by the Michigan legislature since 2016.
In April 2018, Judge Cynthia Stephens of the Court of Claims ruled that the reimbursement appropriation was unconstitutional. This decision was reversed by a October 2018 decision by the Court of Appeals, who ruled that the money was constitutional.
The Court of Appeals found that reimbursements would cover "incidental costs" that came with the non-public schools complying with state requirements, and would not be the state entangling itself with religion.