State Slaps Michigan Schools

State Slaps Michigan Schools
September 1, 2000



Calling it "a win for kids," the Kids First! Yes! organization hailed a July 25 ruling from the Office of the Michigan Secretary of State that three of the state's public school districts had broken the law when they distributed anti-voucher materials to parents and employees earlier this year.

According to the Secretary of State’s compliance and rules division, the actions those districts took against a November school voucher ballot proposal were impermissible attempts to "influence the outcome" of an election with taxpayer resources.

"It is up to the people, and not public bodies, to decide elections," the state told the three districts. "Even if a school district or its employees believe a candidate or ballot question is not in their best interest, they may not utilize public resources to oppose the candidate or ballot question."

The state levied no penalties or fines in what it called a "precedent-setting case" against the Oakland Schools, the Kearsley Community Schools in Flint, and Grand Haven schools. However, to put other public school officials "on notice" of the state's prohibition against electioneering, copies of the ruling were sent to all 555 of the state's school districts. The state is reviewing additional complaints filed by Kids First! Yes! against 10 other school districts.

"Public officials cannot break the law just to make a political point," the Rev. Eddie K. Edwards of Detroit told The Detroit Free Press. Edwards, who is president of Joy of Jesus Ministries, co-chairs the effort by Kids First! Yes! to allow students in failing school districts to use about $3,100 of their education tax dollars to pay for education in secular or religious private schools.

According to the state ruling, the Oakland district broke the law with a presentation suggesting vouchers would turn the "state of Michigan checkbook over to corporate interests" and hurt many children. In addition, the district issued emails urging people to write anti-voucher letters to newspapers.

In late June, All Kids First!--which is organizing opposition to the Kids First! Yes! ballot initiative--was forced to halt distribution of an anti-voucher video. The group was found to have violated copyright laws by using the Whitney Houston song, "The Greatest Love of All," on the video without permission.

"You did not obtain permission from Arista Records Inc. to use this recording," wrote Houston's recording company, in a letter to All Kids First!. "We therefore demand that you cease and desist from further use and distribution of this recording in your video."

"Naturally, we would prefer to resolve this problem amicably and trust that you will not force us to institute formal legal proceedings," the record company continued. "Of course, Arista reserves all of its rights and remedies with respect to the foregoing."

According to a Detroit Free Press account of the incident, the violation arose from a misunderstanding with a subcontractor. The All Kids First! organization is no longer producing or distributing the anti-voucher video and has asked people not to use it.