ND Legislature considers voucher program bills for private and home school education

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 7:48 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Lawmakers in Bismarck are considering bills that would use public funds to pay for private and home school education.

When it comes to what your kids learn, it can be personal.

“One of the reasons we are homeschooling is that the public education system doesn’t help reinforce the moral education that children are supposed to be receiving at home,” said Ryan Rintamaki from the Williston area, who homeschools his kids.

And some people believe parents of all income levels should have the flexibility to send their kids to private schools.

“I felt as a parent I had to do more for my son’s thirst for learning about his faith and explore what it means to be what he wanted to be when he grew up – a priest. I quickly realized the public school system couldn’t accommodate his particular learning style and interest to reach his goal of being a priest,” said Danielle Wangler, a Catholic school parent from the Minot area.

That’s why the Legislature is considering two so-called “voucher” bills — House Bill 1532, which would create an educational reimbursement plan, meaning the state would essentially pay up to 30% of the cost of tuition for students to attend private schools, and Senate Bill 2369, which would provide property tax credits for parents whose kids attend nonpublic schools.

“HB 1532 respects rather than penalizes parents who happen to choose a nonpublic school for their children. The bill respects the right of a child to education without unduly restricting where that child can receive that education,” said Chris Dodson, executive director of the North Dakota Catholic Conference.

But those opposed to voucher programs say these bills present a flurry of issues. For starters, they believe such programs violate the state’s Constitution.

“Section five article eight of the Constitution says, ‘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,’” said Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United.

Those opposed also believe diverting public funds to private education is problematic.

“To send public dollars, public taxpayer dollars to an entity that is not directly accountable to taxpayers is inappropriate,” said Alexis Baxley, ND School Boards Association.

And then there’s the issue that, since they’re not public institutions, private schools don’t have to accept all students. Leading those opposed to say the idea that voucher programs allow parents more flexibility of choice — isn’t exactly the case.

“When a parent chooses, let’s say they choose a private institution, and they’re told ‘no.’ Who’s choice was it then? The parent’s or the school’s?” said Dr. Aimee Copas, executive director for the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders.

Neither House Bill 1532 nor Senate Bill 2369 were acted on in committee on Wednesday.

North Dakota wouldn’t be the leader on this front. Other states have already adopted voucher programs, including Arizona.