House approves $10 million for private school vouchers

House approves $10 million for private school vouchers
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 4:44 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - It was an historic day in the North Dakota Legislature.

For 134 years, the state of North Dakota has foot the bill for public education. And now, for the first time, it’s very possible it will begin paying for private education as well.

It’s a good day for parents of private school students.

“Let’s not talk about all the money we’re going to lose for education if we support this bill. This is for the kids, this is for the parents, this is for the choice of those parents to where they wish to send those students,” said Representative Jim Kasper, R-Fargo.

The House approved $10 million to subsidize private education. Compared to the $2 billion public school budget and the $18 billion state budget, some say, it’s really just not that much money.

“We’re talking about $10 million. $10 million of an $18 billion budget,” said Representative Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck.

But opponents are worried that soon, it won’t be just $10 million.

“What started out as a very, very small voucher program to help disabled kids in Arizona, has now grown to the point where it accounts for one fifth of their entire education budget. Right now, in Arizona, there are 30,000 students receiving vouchers at an unbudgeted cost of $200 million,” said Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United.

To be eligible for private school subsidies families must make 500% of the poverty level or less. Opponents say 500% is a much higher bar than other government programs, such as medical assistance for people with disabilities (225%) and pregnant women (175%), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (130%), or free school meals (130%).

“If we can invest $10 million to subsidize up to 500% of poverty, we should be able to make every other means test investment up to that level,” said Representative Zac Ista, D-Fargo.

Still others believe the very principle of public funds for private education is flawed.

“This is a good-intended bill, but it is not right. It does take away from everybody else in every aspect of funding the state government,” said Representative Brandy Pyle, R-Casselton.

Next, the bill heads to the governor’s desk.

In addition to the arguments I mentioned, both camps say the Constitution is on their side. Governor Burgum will have three days to act on it and hasn’t yet indicated if he’ll sign it.