By Mike Kruzman & Jon King /

A local lawmaker says bills she is sponsoring will help families with school-related expenses while opponents argue the legislation is unconstitutional.

The Republican-led Michigan Legislature on Tuesday approved along party lines the Let Kids Learn plan, sponsored by Republican Lana Theis of Brighton Township. Theis is the chairwoman of the Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee. The plan would create scholarships for at-risk K-12 students, funded by individual and corporate taxpayers.

Students would be eligible if their family income is less than 200% of the cutoff to receive free or reduced lunches, they have a disability, or are in foster care. Children attending private schools could receive up to $7,830, while those in public schools could get a maximum of $500, or $1,100 if disabled. Scholarship money could pay for school-related expenses like tuition, computers, tutoring, instructional materials, transportation costs, athletic fees and more.

Theis said in a release, that it is time to “rethink education,” during the pandemic and that “we need bold creative solutions to get parents more involved and students back on the path of educational success.”

Opponents of the plan, like Senator Danya Polehanki, a Democrat from Livonia, call the bills a voucher scheme that would send taxpayer dollars largely to private and religious schools while giving generous tax benefits to wealthy donors.

The scholarships could pay for school-related expenses: tuition, fees, tutoring, computers, software, instructional materials, summer school, transportation costs, athletic fees, educational therapies and school uniforms. State tax revenue would be cut by as much as $500 million in the first year, and public schools would see a drop in funding depending on how many kids switch to private school because of the scholarships.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Polehanki cited a Senate Fiscal Agency analysis that estimated the state’s general fund could lose as much as a billion dollars by the fifth year of the program if it were to become law, adding, “My colleagues were unable to come up with what they would cut in the budget to make up for a billion-dollar revenue loss."

While the Michigan Constitution states that public money can’t be used to aid or maintain private schools, Abby Mitch, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said the credits are not public funds, but ostensibly private funds being reallocated through the state to parents. But critics, including Michigan’s largest teachers union, said the proposed program is clearly illegal under a 1970 voter-approved constitutional amendment.

Separate bills were approved 20-16 and 55-48 in the Senate and House. Final votes cannot occur until next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.