Senate approves Theis’ plan to ‘Let Kids Learn’

LANSING, Mich. — The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation that would empower parents with Michigan Opportunity Scholarship Accounts that could be used by families for school-related expenses — both inside and outside the classroom — to help improve student achievement.

“After a year unlike any other it is time we rethink education,” said Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, who chairs the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee. “The coronavirus pandemic, closed schools, and government mandates have led to over a year of lost learning, stress and anxiety, and have exposed many other educational challenges.

“One lesson to be learned from all of this is: We need more parental control in our education system to prevent more kids from slipping through the cracks. We need bold, creative solutions to get parents more involved and students back on the path of educational success. That’s what our Let Kids Learn plan would do.”

The Let Kids Learn plan would provide financial scholarships for at-risk K-12 students in Michigan to use for qualifying educational expenses. The plan prioritizes scholarships for children receiving free and reduced lunch, children in foster care and students with disabilities.

Additionally, any student in a household with an annual income between 100% and 200% of the free and reduced lunch program threshold would also qualify to a lesser extent.

Scholarships would be funded by the generous donations of Michigan residents, who would receive state tax credits for their giving. All proceeds would be provided to approved nonprofit scholarship granting organizations, which would deposit the money into families’ scholarship accounts.

The amount students would receive would be determined based on the student’s eligibility requirements and the type of school they attend, with a maximum totaling 90% of the minimum foundational allowance as determined in the state budget. The scholarship funds could then be used to pay for a whole host of school-related expenses, including tuition and fees for public, nonpublic or online K-12 schools, career and technical education programs, tutoring services, occupational and behavioral services, textbooks and learning materials, laptops and tablets, uniforms, athletics and more.

The funds would be strictly for school-related expenses, and any refunds, returns or rebates would be credited back to a student’s scholarship account for future educational use.

Annual reports would be required by the Department of Treasury to ensure proper use of scholarship funds by the scholarship granting organizations, and audits could be conducted if necessary.

If enacted, Michigan would join several other states that offer, with great success, similar education savings accounts and tax-credit scholarships.

“Every child in Michigan, from the farthest reaches of the U.P. to the borders of Indiana and Ohio, deserves a fair and equal opportunity to learn and succeed academically,” Theis said. “No matter a student’s background, we should be doing more to support parents, so they can have a more active and impactful role in their children’s education. That’s why I introduced this legislation, because Michigan Student Opportunity Scholarships will open new doors to better learning and brighter futures for our kids. That’s what it’s all about.”

Senate Bills 687 and 688 now advance to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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