Video: ND House Kills School Choice Bill


HB1466, introduced by Rep. Mark Dosch (listen to my interview with him here) was a school choice bill that would have allowed parents choosing a qualified public school to get 25% of their child’s share of public school funding sent by the state to the school of their choice.

“It does not take away any money from our local school districts,” argued Rep. Dosch (R-Bismarck) on the floor of the House. “It is not part of the school funding formula.”

Indeed, per the fiscal note, the bill came with a $32 million appropriation from the general fund (which also got around the state constitution’s prohibition on education funding for religious schools).

But Democrats were quick to cast this as an attack on public schools. Rep. Jessica Haak (D-Jamestown) posted on Twitter during the debate that Republicans were “bashing” public schools, which is clearly a lie as anyone who watched the debate knows (video of the entire floor debate here).

The floor debate got emotional at times. Rep. Mark Dosch was, at one point, literally reduced to tears as he described this bill’s importance to children (including the one who sat next to him on the floor of the House today). On the flip side, Rep. Jon Nelson was downright angry in lashing out at anyone daring to suggest that private schools might offer a better choice for some parents and children than public schools. Rep. Nelson also compared this situation to the infamous “milkgate” situation. “If they want private education, let them pay” he grumped.

It really is a shame that this bill failed. School choice has been demonstrated, again and again, to improve education outcomes. But the teachers are one of the most powerful constituencies in the state. Every legislator has schools and school bureaucrats/teachers in his/her district, and they speak with a loud voice.

But who matters more? “Are we going to do what’s best for the public education institutions,” asked Rep. Mike Nathe, “or are we going to do what’s best for the kids?”

Clearly, the House was more interested in pandering to teachers than giving kids and parents a choice.

Rob Port is the editor of 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.

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  • RCND

    The opposition to this was based on nothing more than trying to protect public schools from any kind of competition. When you have a monopoly, the customer is not served. In this case, the customer is the taxpayer in addition to kids and parents

  • The Whistler

    Are our schools that bad that they can’t stand any competition?

  • Lianne

    Rep. Dosch gave a compassionate well thought out debate. Rep. Larson’s was short, concise and equally compelling.

  • Shadowwalker

    One should know that Mr. Nelson was the president of the school board for the Wolford School district for many year. They had several fine educators there over the years and currently have a fine administrator. That being said, Jon would not be one that I would trust to determine the educational standards for my children today. The point being is that the once great school system that he oversaw is hardly able to justify its own existence just by the low number of students attending that school today. I am not saying that I would like to see that school closed but the tax payers money could be better spent and if Jon was honest about this fact he would allow those in the school district to make that decision rather than force them into a situation of remaining in a dying school. Sad hard truth.

  • auH2o

    I really think the bill was unconstitutional, both in regard to state and federal constitutions. Serious anti-gift clause questions were present in this legislation. There is also a legitimate claim the funding mechanism violates the separation of church and state present in the first amendment.

    SCOTUS jurisprudence allows vouchers, but probably not direct state funding of private schools.

    I’m a huge school choice supporter, but this bill had too many holes. Not really devastated it failed.

    • Rob

      It’s not a gift. The school districts would be contracting for services rendered. If that’s a gift, so is every other state contract.

      And this isn’t direct funding. The government directing the money is initiated by the parent.

      • Eric Wittliff

        Rob, your right for the wrong reason! The government can not launder its money trough and agency (school district or contractor) and get around the 1st amendment or any other amendment law.

        The issue with auH2o argument is that “separation of church and state” is not the 1st amendment. “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is. 25% of what the school gets paid is arguably not going to establish church as State run. They made headway in Michigan a couple years back, but I can not find the story or case.

        I was starting to like this bill, but was worried how the private schools would find themselves in “receipt of federal funds” and how that would impact them in relation ship to laws like IDEA. The other thought is if a Student that gets services under IDEA and wants to opt into this law. Would all that money fallow or none of it?

        They should revamp it and try again…. maybe it will be part of that study on how to make ND schools more independent of the feds.

    • Waski_the_Squirrel

      I don’t know that the bill was unconstitutional. I had some problems with it, mostly my fear that private schools could be subjected to even more government interference. (Grove City College and Hillsdale College went to the Supreme Court twice over this issue.) I would also have preferred that a portion of the state part of school funding be used rather than the district’s tax money…just for the sake of equity. (I’d rather be a parent in Wolford than Rugby, to use the example above. Wolford costs more per student than Rugby. State funding is more similar between the districts.) I also had some concerns with the homeschooling aspect because I can imagine some parents homeschooling for financial rather than educational or financial reasons.

      Since the parent gets control of the money, it isn’t direct government funding. In fact, the government will contract with private schools to help students who can’t be served in the regular public school. For example, most public schools can’t serve a student with severe medical needs, so they would contract with a private school that can serve those students.

      • Shadowwalker

        I wouldn’t argue that Wolford being better than Rugby why not let the kids east of Rugby then choose to go to Wolford to make it a more viable school. Maybe snipe a couple from Rollette, Bisbee (don’t get me started) or other surrounding areas. If Wolford is the better school then let those parents just outside the school district make use of it? Why should a poor administrator in West Fargo School district that had to be moved from one school to another because she made false reports to social services be allowed to not let students attend one of the other schools in West Fargo or the surrounding area? Or a bad second grade teacher at the same school be allowed to not teach kids to read because she doesn’t have patients to deal with them? I think that school choice is great in all forms. If the public schools actually taught their students instead of applying for every program that will get them money and discharged those that shouldn’t be in the school system maybe this wouldn’t be an issue. It is damn hard to get a teacher fired unless it is the step-daughter of the school board president that is being acted upon inappropriately isn’t it Mr. Nelson?

        • Waski_the_Squirrel

          I have no idea about which school is better. I live in a totally different part of the state. I also do not know the politics of the individual schools or their teachers. My comment was merely that it costs more to educate a student in Wolford than in Rugby.

          I brought these schools up to make the point that under the bill as written, parents in Wolford would get more money to send their student to private school than a parent from Rugby. That’s nothing against choice. It is a concern with equity. Some of these small schools cost an exorbitant amount per student.

  • Game

    I disagree that teachers are the most powerful powerful constituencies in the state. It is Parents who are. A vast majority of parents send their kids to public schools (and went to public schools themselves) and they don’t want to see money taken away from our public schools to fund private religious schools.

    And can we please retire the “private schools perform better” myth. Private schools perform better because they are selective in whom they admit, whereas public schools are required by law to provide a free and appropriate public education to every student. Until the day that private schools have the same admission standards and performance standards as private schools, it is an apple’s to Buick’s argument.

    This has nothing to do with if public schools can educate our children effectively because they do a great job at it (as Rep. Nelson correctly pointed out). This is all about the far rights hatred of 1) everything government and 2) the fact that the government is spending tax payer dollars educating kids their prestigious private schools gladly would leave uneducated.

    • The Whistler

      I don’t agree that “private schools perform better.” It’s certainly not true for all students. Not every public school is great. Not every private school is great. But if we leave it up to the parents we’ll get the best outcomes.

      The parents may make their decision based on a number of factors. Perhaps a public school has a bad administrator or bad teachers. Even one bad teacher can spoil the education of a child. Why make the kid suffer?

      Maybe the child is being bullied and it’s better for them to make a change. Why make the kid suffer?

      Maybe the neighborhood has a bunch of bad kids that are disrupting school. Why make the good kids suffer?

      • Game

        I fully support parents being able to send thier kids to any public school they choose. Our current law alows districts to opt out of open enrolment.
        I also don’t have a problem with parents sending thier kids to private schools or home schooling. They just don’t get a tax payer subsiday for thier choice.

        • The Whistler

          So if they are poor and can’t afford to send their kids to the best school for their kids the kids can’t go.

          Why do you hate kids?

          • borborygmi

            How progressive you have grown. Nice to see. I would have thought you would have responded with the normal conservative talking point that all kids’do’ have equal opportunity to go to a private school as long as the parent (or school) pays for it. Lets revisit milk breaks now since you have had such a change of heart. Good to see you have come to your senses.

          • The Whistler

            In the case of the milk break we’re talking about pennies while the cost to attend private school is in the thousands of dollars. If the parents need help with milk it’s already there in foodstamps, wic, and another support.

    • Rob

      And can we please retire the “private schools perform better” myth. Private schools perform better because they are selective in whom they admit,

      Well, it’s not a myth, but how about this: School choice policies perform better.

      Students do better when parents are allowed to choose. Locking all children into a one-size-fits-all education system doesn’t work as well.

      This is self-evident, though not a convenient reality for teacher unions.

      • Game

        “Locking all children into a one-size-fits-all education system doesn’t work as well.”
        Consdering the fact that we have the largest economy in the world, I would argue that as a whole, our county’s education system has had some amazing results.

    • FrackinNoDak

      Great post Game! I agree 100% with everything you wrote.

      Where we live, sending your kid to private school is more about image than education.

      • Wayne

        “Where we live, sending your kid to private school is more about image than education.” I don’t know where that would be but it is not true where we live. Maybe if more poor families were able to send their kids to private schools, you wouldn’t have this misconception.

      • jl

        Wow, you changed a lot of minds with that reasoned debate.

    • Wayne

      Private schools do perform better. “Private schools perform better because they are selective in whom they admit…” That is the myth.

    • wj

      (1) You assume that parents have a real choice. Lower income parents do not have the same choice to send their children to nonpublic schools as wealthier parents.

      (2) If the public schools do a great job for every child, why would nonpublic schools exist?

      (3) Parental choice in education was originally an idea brought about by those on the political left as a way to ensure greater equitability in public education and it is still supported by many “left-leaning” advocates among African-Americans and Hispanics.

    • JoeMN

      I disagree that teachers are the most powerful powerful constituencies in the state.


      The NEA and the American Federation of Teachers unions combined are bar none the largest lobby in the country

      Splain this away, Game

  • opinionated

    Call their bluff and shut down the private schools for a week and watch the rats scamper

  • borborygmi

    Darn those teachers for speaking up..”with a loud voice”

    • Wayne

      So you have no problem with any special interest group, including corporations, speaking up with a loud voice, right?

      • borborygmi

        no, do you have a problem with teachers speaking with a loud voice?

  • jimmypop

    “If they want private education, let them pay”
    ‘they’ do pay. in fargo they pay 64% of their property taxes to schools.

    and once again, ‘conservatism’ leads the way in bismarck. sheesh.

  • Guest

    I’m a strict conservative and I believe in cutting government spending. Therefore I think the state should pick up 25% of the bill for all kids paying their way right now at private schools. I believe subsidized student loans are the only reason that college costs are going up. Doing the same thing in k-12 education would not have the same result it would only drive down costs and increase accessibility for all. Anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot.

  • FrackinNoDak

    “If they want private education, let them pay”

    I completely agree. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the public schools in ND.

    • borborygmi

      Fargo has great public schools

    • Wayne

      But private school is usually better.

    • jl

      Thanks again for the reasoned, detailed, well-thought out response. And for all your facts to support your “There’s nothing wrong…”