Education, Government, and Law

Attorney general: Schools with Native American mascots can't lose state aid

July 12, 2017
| By AP |
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LANSING — The superintendent of Michigan schools doesn't have authority to cut off tax dollars to districts with Native American mascots.

State law lists specific conditions for a state superintendent or the Education Department to withhold state aid to schools, but having a Native American mascot or logo isn't among them, Attorney General Bill Schuette says in an opinion last week.

The opinion was sought by state Rep. Tim Kelly, a Republican from Saginaw County, and State Superintendent Brian Whiston.

In March, Whiston proposed cutting up to 10 percent of a district's annual payments if he had the power. Schools operate on per-student allowances from Lansing.

Critics of schools with Native American mascots say they create a hostile environment and are culturally insensitive. Supporters, however, say they're signs of respect.

In Paw Paw, in southwest Michigan, the school board voted 4-3 in February to keep the Redskins nickname. The Belding district, northeast of Grand Rapids, dropped Redskins last year and chose the Black Knights.

It's uncertain whether Whiston will ask the Legislature to give him the authority to withhold money, spokesperson Martin Ackley said.

Whiston will continue encouraging districts that have Native American mascots to seek money from Michigan's Native American Heritage Fund to cover the costs of a switch, Ackley said.

There is a bill in the Senate to ban the use of the name Redskins.

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