As the ongoing Common Core argument has taught us, there are few issues that get people talking and debating more than K-12 education. There are very few undisputed truths in education. First off, our education system has made our country great. If you are reading this, you have many teachers to thank. Education is at the core of every successful American. Everybody seems to agree that as great as our system is, it can be better. A final undisputed truth in education is that very few people agree on how to improve our school system.
According to at least one national poll, the biggest problems facing schools in the United States are lack of adequate funding, lack of discipline, overcrowded schools, and crime. In my experiences, there is much debate and very little agreement over how we best deal with each of those issues.
[On a side note: Speaking of discipline, as a person who has lived in the Northwest my whole life, I cannot believe that 19 states still allow corporal punishment in Schools. Thankfully, somebody is trying to do something about this.]
As part of their plan to improve education, conservatives love to talk about school choice programs. These plans include taking funding from the Public School system and giving it to private schools, including schools that teach religious programming and are rightfully and necessarily allowed to discriminate for religious reasons. During the last legislative session in North Dakota, Rep. Mark Dosch(R-Bismarck) proposed legislation that would allow for the state to pay 25% of a student’s education in a private school. Rep. Dosch even went as far as to promote his plan as a way to save the state money by paying less per student for private schools than for public schools.
I will never support the use of taxpayer funds for religious education; however, I am generally sympathetic to parents who want alternative school options for their children. We can begin to offer real school choice in North Dakota by changing our laws and making full open enrolment mandatory for school boards and a right for all North Dakota students.
Currently, according to North Dakota Century code, the school board of the admitting district must approve or deny any application for open enrolment. This option, like many such “local control” issues, creates inequitable school freedom and opportunities across the state. My hometown of Minot, for example, has decided to reject almost all applications for open enrolment. This decision has created a reality in which parents who move across town have chosen to lie to the school in order to allow their kids educational continuity and other parents are forced to keep their kids in less than preferred educational settings because of arbitrary school boundaries.
Even if I will never agree that taxpayer money should be used for religious programming, I challenge school choice conservatives to join with me in fighting for full open enrolment and real school choice as part of the North Dakota public school system.