Interview: Rep. Mark Dosch Talks About North Dakota School Choice Bill

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I interviewed Rep. Mark Dosch about HB1466, a bill that would appropriate 25% of a student’s share of public education dollars to any private school that student may attend. The bill would require that parents choosing a private school file a form with the superintendent of their school district. Based on that form, the Department of Public Instruction would then send the funds to the public schools.

I asked Rep. Dosch if parents who school their children at home would be eligible for funds under this bill, and he said they would not. Home schooling is considered a program under North Dakota law and not a school. This bill only allows for schools to get the funds.

I also asked Rep. Dosch about concerns over the state constitution’s prohibition on funds for sectarian (religious) schools. Article VIII, Section 5 of the state constitution 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.” 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 some consider the existence of this language in the North Dakota constitution may make passage of this bill difficult.

Dosch doesn’t agree. He said that the legislature already fulfills the Article VIII, Section 1 requirement for the creation of a secular public school system. As to Article VIII, Section 5 Rep. Dosch note that it prohibits “money raised for the support of the public schools of the state” from being used for “sectarian schools.” Dosch says that means the state can’t use revenues from taxes explicitly earmarked for education (i.e. property taxes) to fund sectarian schools.

Dosch says his bill gets around that by using general fund tax revenues for funding. And even if that work-around doesn’t work, you wouldn’t think the bill would necessarily be invalidated. It could still be used for secular private schools (though I don’t know how many secular private schools there are in North Dakota).

Regardless, the intent of Dosch’s legislation is to empower parents with more choices when it comes to educating their children. And as we’ve seen over and over again, when parents are empowered with choice we get better education outcomes.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Opinion8ed

    I commend Mr. Do such for trying to do something with this problem. The private schools do legally educate children in accredited schools and the fact that they say grace before meals and believe in something higher than themselves is a bad excuse. If these private schools shut down tomorrow it would be a very dire situation in Minot that would cost hundreds of millions to rectify. I would call their bluff and all the private schools should inform the Department of Public Instruction that they are not opening the doors beginning Monday Morning. Education is a RIGHT, so they would be FORCED to deal with it immediately.. Call the Bluff, empower yourselves Private Schools, create the haps that the President calls for!

    • Opinion8ed

      “Dosch”

  • Drain52

    I guess I would want to know why homeschoolers AREN’T included. He says “It’s a program not a school.” That’s the same kind of distinction as public school vs. private school. If you can accomodate private schools into the language of the bill, why can’t you do the same for homeschoolers?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I have no idea. I got the sense that Rep. Dosch likes home schooling. I’m not sure why they weren’t included.

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      I think part of the concern with homeschooling is that since no tuition is being paid, there is a financial incentive for parents to pull students out of school, and not necessarily to improve the quality of their education. It opens up the door to parents utilizing the program for entirely the wrong reason: more money in their pockets, not to improve education. I would only be comfortable with this if the money is spent at an educational institution.

      I have no problem with homeschooling, but I have known a few parents to pull students from public school for reasons totally unrelated to education or religion. (I have to be careful of privacy laws here, so I’ll stay generic.) I would hate to see parents pulling out kids just so they could have more money in their pockets. With private school, they still have to make a financial sacrifice. This bill makes it a little less painful and may open the private school option up for more students. I see that as good.

  • Dallas

    You want to go to a private school, pay for it. You want to home school and deprive your child, foot the bill. I don’t want to pay for anyone’s religious beliefs or practices. Catholics ran a wonderful private system for years without assistance.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      We have an entitlement for education. What’s wrong with allowing parents to shift a portion of that money we’re spending toward private schools both secular and religious?

      It’s better for the kids. It’s better for the parents. Of course, it’s not good for teachers unions, but I didn’t realize we were running schools for the benefit of teachers unions.

      • Dakotacyr

        It is not an entitlement, it is a right enshrined in the ND Constitution. The Blaine amendment is pretty clear. While Rep. dosch is trying to create an exception, I highly doubt one exists.

        Another AG opinion will find his bill unconstitutional, if it becomes law,or it will be referred just like what happened in Floriday.

        And I doubt Rep. Dosch want state tax dollars going to MUSLIM schools. Wouldn’t that be something in ND?

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      Even though I am a public school teacher, I don’t know that homeschooling rely deprives kids of anything. Some argue social experiences, but I attended public school and all it did was make me more shy and withdrawn since I couldn’t stand kids my own age. (Even now, most of my friends are older.) I can thank the job I got as a sophomore for learning social skills.

      In fact, where else (other than school) are we forced to surround ourselves entirely with people our own age. The world I live in is filled with ages from babies all the way to the nineties.

      As for the rest, now that I’ve better read his bill, some questions are answered, others remain. Apparently, the private schools in Williston should recruit from Grenora because those parents will have more money to spend since it costs more to educate a student in Grenora.

      I would prefer that a share of the school’s foundation aid travel with the student rather than the cost of educating the student, Local tax dollars are paid by all taxpayers in a district, whether they have children or not, in order to support the local district. Parents who do not take advantage of a local public school should not get a break on this community obligation. There is a mechanism in place for closing a district that community members do not wish to support. I feel differently about foundation aid, especially as this is a payment that crosses district lines. It’s a small concern, but I think it’s important. Also, it will more equal the playing field between the “expensive” districts and the less expensive districts.

      • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

        You make some very sound points.

  • Really?

    $32,000,000 (read the fiscal note) of tax payer money with ZERO requirement to report how that money is spent??? Really. Sunshine? Private school boards are appointed and not open to public meeting laws. I could go on and on about how secretive they can be with their budgets. Yeah lets give them $32,000,000 with no reporting or accountability. This bill does not require private schools to lower there tuition one cent. I cannot wait for the reaction from people who want this money to go to good christian schools when a Muslim or Scientology school opens up. You just wait and see what private schools start showing up when public dollars are handed over no strings attached. 6000 private school parents choose to pay tuition to private schools on top of their taxes. How many people who don’t have kids also pay those taxes? Now 90,000+ parents of public school kids are going to be asked to pick up their property taxes for public schools that they can access and general fund (income and sales taxes) for private schools that they very well might not get access to? So someone buying food and working in Lignite ND will be paying taxes for a kid to attend private school in Fargo, Grand Forks or Bismarck? There is way too much wrong with this bill. This is added fat to education that doesn’t make any sense on any level.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      Private schools are far more accountable than public schools in that they must meet the expectations of their customers or go out of business. And people living in Lignite are already paying to send kids to school in Bismarck and Grand Forks.

      There is nothing wrong with this bill. It is a step toward school choice.

      • WOOF

        Private school operators will take the money and run. They’re in it for the money.

      • Really?

        Where is the choice if tuition doesn’t go down? Where is the choice if you don’t fit their “mold?”

        • Waski_the_Squirrel

          Suppose the tuition at a private school is $8000/yr. Suppose it costs $12,000/yr to educate students at the local public school. As I interpret the bill, the parents get $3000 to go toward the private school tuition. They still have to pony up an additional $5000. This is important because one strength of private schools is that parents have to sacrifice to put their child in a private school. This is choice and a reduction in tuition.

          As for the mold: I have students in my public school classroom who don’t fit the mold either. Some don’t fit socially, some don’t fit academically, and some have other issues, including criminal records. Public school really is one-size-fits-all, even though we have to take all comers. I try to do some individualizing, but there is a limit to what I can do. There are limits to what a private school can do as well. But, wouldn’t it be wonderful if a parent could send their child to the school that is best suited for their child?

          Of course, in a rural state like North Dakota, this choice is limited mostly to the cities, but I haven’t heard anything about limited choice in these discussions.

          • Really?

            There is nothing stopping the private schos from continuing to charge 8000 and taking the 3000 from the state though. So again if it isn’t a dollar cheaper how does this improve choice?

          • Waski_the_Squirrel

            Absolutely: they are continuing to charge $8000. The difference is that the parent now has $3000 to spend on the tuition, thereby reducing the cost to the parent to $5000.

          • Really?

            Nope the parents don’t get the money it is a contract between the schools after September. The parents will not see this money. They will charge the hypothetical 8000 and then get 30000 for a total of 11000.

          • Really?

            Not true. This is a contact between the schools not the parents. The private will charge mom and dad 8000 then collect 3000 from the state in sept. for a total of 11000. Private schools would be crazy to cut tuition when they are not required to. Sorry if this is a repost I can’t see this thread well.

      • Really?

        My parents sent me to private school because they wanted a religious aspect to my education. The biggest competitors of private schools in ND are our good public schools. Most of the parents I talk to are in private schools for the same reason the religion not the fact that public schools are not getting it done. So if private schools are struggling why should tax dollars bail them out? I don’t support any subsidizing of private sectors

      • dakotacyr

        I suppose this is your opinion but have no facts to back it up as usual.

    • wj

      Private schools have the best kind of accountability – a contract with the parents. That is more than parents with children in public schools get.

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      My suggestion would be to send a share of foundation aid rather than the cost to educate the student in the district. I mentioned my concern yesterday that there are strings (or the potential for them) with this money. Despite reassurances from several on this board, that is my fear with this bill.

      As for a Muslim/Scientology school: so? In this state, as Rob has mentioned, private schools are very accountable to the state. Instructors have to be certified teachers. Schools are expected to teach the state curriculum, and they take the state tests. The information is out there to hold schools accountable academically. Religious and social aspects are another draw, and I can imagine a Muslim family might prefer a Muslim school, just as I would prefer a Christian school if it were available where I live. The bigots in that state shouldn’t control whether Muslims get a choice of schools or not.

      There should not be a requirement to lower tuition. This helps out families that take the private school route, but still requires them to make a financial contribution. It also does not remove the obligation to pay taxes. In fact, right now, several of our public schools remain open only because they are propped up by tax money from out of the district.

      • Really?

        I Agree support them all if this passes I just don’t think everyone will see it that way.

  • Dallas

    The bill is a ‘wing-nut’ tea bagger idea. They want us to pay for kids to be taught intellegent design and the evils of government.

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      Do name-calling and hyperbole make your point?

  • WOOF

    If private schools want State money they need to serve the State.
    That means accepting any kid who wants to go to their school.
    Like public schools they need to accept any physically handicapped, and all the other problems public schools accept. Without open enrollment the public schools pool will be concentrated with the difficult and expensive students at the same time you are lowering their funds.

    • Opinion8ed

      There are handicapped kids at private school, they take all students whose parents pay or the church supports

      • WOOF

        And the others they leave on ice flows ? When money becomes part of the picture there are ways found to cut kids who are expensive.

  • Stuart

    Rob,
    This is off the subject. There is a video being funded by tax payer dollars which is geared to indoctrinate Government Employees that we are not citizens but immigrants that have colonialized America. The speaker with a foreign accent is asking those in the crowd to repeat after him. We are not more than out siders and we took this land.

    I might have heard it incorrectly but please research it and put it on this site for all to make up their own minds if its indoctrination. I received my email from judicial watch .
    Thanks!

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