The Word from Lansing: Protecting the Health and Safety of All Michigan Students

In a recent weekly General Audience, Pope Francis spoke about children as “the joy of the family and of society.” As a state, Michigan benefits from recognizing and preserving the important role children play in community life.

At the end of June, the Michigan Legislature approved and Governor Snyder signed into law next year’s spending plan for K–12 schools, community colleges, and institutions of higher education. The budget includes $2.5 million to reimburse non-public schools for complying with annual health and safety mandates required by the state. These funds will help to ensure that every student in Michigan, regardless of where they attend school, are educated in the best environment possible.

Each year, school administrators, teachers, and staff at public and non-public schools complete these mandates. A 2014 report from the Michigan Department of Education identified over forty requirements placed upon non-public schools, which include practicing fire and lockdown drills, conducting background checks of employees and staff, and maintaining student immunization records. Public schools have long received reimbursement from the state through the per pupil foundation allowance for the time and costs to complete these mandates. Yet non-public schools do not receive similar compensation for completing the same activities.

Now, due to an appropriation in the recently signed education budget, non-public schools will have the opportunity to apply for reimbursement. The $2.5 million in funding stems from Michigan’s general fund and recognizes the importance of health and safety in non-public schools. While this funding does not cover the full cost that Michigan’s almost 600 non-public schools incur, it is a step in the right direction of fairness. States like Ohio, Louisiana, and New York significantly reimburse non-public schools in their state budgets, recognizing that all children deserve to be cared for and supported.

In years past, the State of Michigan recognized the value of protecting non-public school students, providing funds for crossing guards, nursing services, and speech therapy. In 2015, fifteen non-public schools received over $600,000 in grant funding through the Competitive School Safety Grant Program, along with fifty-six public school districts, eleven charter schools, and five sheriff departments. This grant program assists schools with technological and safety improvements for their buildings. Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, Director of the Michigan State Police, called the program an important way to create a “more secure learning environment,” recognizing that “the safety of our students and educators is of paramount importance.” This grant has also been included in the 2016–2017 state budget, along with funding for public and non-public schools to test plumbing fixtures and infrastructure for lead.

Michigan Catholic Conference supports the Legislature’s efforts to recognize the critical role non-public schools play in educating Michigan’s children. MCC is especially thankful to legislative leadership in the House and Senate who worked to include the funding in the state budget, including House K–12 Appropriations Chair Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw), House Appropriations Chair Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant), Senate K–12 Appropriations Chair Geoff Hansen (R-Hart), Senate Appropriations Chair David Hildenbrand (R-Lowell), and Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-Grand Haven). MCC is also appreciative of Governor Snyder’s decision to sign the education budget into law with the funding for non-public schools included.

If children are truly the “joy of the family and of society,” as Pope Francis says, Michigan Catholic Conference encourages legislators and school advocacy groups, public and non-public alike, to collaborate for the best interest of all Michigan’s children, regardless of where they attend school.