HB1466, introduced by Rep. Mark Dosch, is a major piece of education policy reform which would allow parents choosing private schools to divert as much as 25% of their student’s share of public dollars to the private school.
The amended version of the bill (read it here) would require that parents opting for a private school that meets the education standards already in place file notice with the superintendent of their school district. After the deadline for notifications, the superintendent will then figure out the total of funds owed to each private school chosen by the parents (again, not to exceed 25% of that student’s share of public funds) and forward that figure to the Department of Public Instruction which will then disperse those funds to the private schools.
The bill allows for any schools meeting the compulsory education requirements set out in 15.1-20 of the North Dakota Century Code be eligible for this money. By my reading, that means home schoolers meeting state standards would be eligible as well. UPDATE: I interviewed Rep. Dosch about this bill and unfortunately it won’t apply to home schoolers since home schooling under state law is a program, and this law applies to institutions.
Put simply, this is education vouchers, and it’s a big step in the right direction for education in North Dakota.
Currently parents who choose private schools or home schooling are still required to pay their full share of taxes for public schools. What this bill does is divert a portion of those tax dollars into supporting parents who choose to opt out of the public system.
As has been shown in study after study, and pretty much everywhere the policy has been tried, when parents are empowered to make more choices for their students the students perform better and we get better academic outcomes.
The state teacher’s union, of course, hates the idea. The North Dakota Education Association is already mobilizing in opposition to the bill.
Update: A reader points out that Article VIII, Section 8 of the state constitution may prove problematic for this bill. That amendment reads, “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the state shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”
There’s some interesting history behind that language. It’s called a “Blaine amendment,” named after former US House Speaker James G. Blaine, and it’s the product of anti-Catholic bigotry in 18th and 19th century America. The US Supreme Court has upheld school choice programs which divert funds to religious schools, including Catholic schools, in Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris, but the existence of this language in the North Dakota constitution may make passage of this bill difficult.
Which is not so much an argument against the bill, but an argument for removing the vestiges of religious bigotry from our state constitution.