Michigan state school board seeks ruling on constitutionality of new education agency

A wide view of the Michigan State Capitol building with a cloudy sky behind.
The Michigan State Board of Education voted Tuesday to ask the attorney general for an opinion on the constitutionality of new state education agency created by the governor. (Elaine Cromie / Chalkbeat)

Michigan’s State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to ask for clarity from the attorney general on the constitutionality of a new education agency created by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer by executive order last month.

The newly formed Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential, or MiLEAP, would take on some key functions of the Michigan Department of Education, whose leader is selected by the state board. 

The board’s resolution notes that the state constitution vests leadership and supervision of public education in the elected board, and that there may be overlapping authority between the existing education department and MiLEAP.

The resolution directs State Superintendent Michael F. Rice to ask Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel for a formal opinion on the matter.

“The framers of our constitution intentionally separated public education outside of the governor’s office,” Board President Pamela Pugh said during the meeting, adding that the board wanted to ensure that the executive order creating the agency satisfies the framers’ intent.

Stacey LaRouche, press secretary for the governor, said her office consulted with the attorney general while drafting the law.

“We are confident in our legal authority and look forward to working with everyone who is serious about providing Michigan students with a world class public education,” she said.

Nikki Snyder, one of two Republicans on the Democratic-controlled board, said she believes creating another department would bring “chaos and confusion.”

“I definitely have major concerns about the constitutionality of the governor’s executive order,” she said. “I’m not sure that the AG opinion will satisfy those concerns. It’s definitely a step forward.”

Whitmer, a Democrat, said at the time of the announcement that MiLEAP was created to streamline lifelong education in the state from pre-K, to higher education, to workforce development. 

The basic functions of K-12 education will remain with the MDE under the law. Both the MDE and the state board will work with the new department, Whitmer said.

The Office of Great Start, which serves the educational needs of children up to age 8, would move from the MDE to the new department under Whitmer’s order, along with the Governor’s Educator Advisory Council and the Michigan PreK-12 Literacy Commission.

Hannah Dellinger is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering K-12 education. Contact Hannah at hdellinger@chalkbeat.org.

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