Senate Narrowly Defeats Tax Deduction For Private School Expenses

HB1254 would have allowed parents who send their kids to private school to deduct up to $5,000 worth of expenses (defined as “books and tuition”) in each calendar year. It passed the state House by a wide margin, 69-24, back in February but it was defeated in the Senate today.

I was told by a legislative source that Democrat Senators were told in their caucus meeting that they were not to support this bill in any way. That’s not surprising given that the state teacher union is one of the solidly liberal organizations backing Democrats in the state, and they hate anything that empowers parents to have a choice other than the de facto public school monopoly.

The caucus discipline was enforced on the floor. Every single Democrat in the chamber voted against the bill, along with Republican Senators Howard Anderson, Tom Campbell, Tim Flakoll, Ray Holmberg, Karen Krebsbach, Judy Lee, Dave Oehlke, David Rust, Don Schaible, and Rich Wardner. The final vote was 22-24 against the bill.

Senator Connie Triplett called the bill “an incredibly dangerous argument” and said that “public dollars should go to fund public education.”

“This is the beginning of a major policy shift for the state of North Dakota,” Senator Rust told the floor. “It essentially allows through a back door maneuver state dollars going to non-public schools.”

“The state should not in essence create a dual system where one of the systems doesn’t have to operate by the same rules,” he continued.

Senator Connie Triplett called the bill “an incredibly dangerous argument” and said that “public dollars should go to fund public education.”

But supporters of the bill pushed back against that argument, pointing out that this bill was not a voucher bill nor was it a subsidy. “This is not a voucher bill,” Senator Nicole Poolman, herself a public school teacher, told the floor. “What we are doing here today is a tax deduction.”

Senator Dick Dever made an interesting point about these sort of tax deductions. He noted that if you make a contribution to pay for tuition to a private school you can deducted that on your federal taxes. You cannot make that deduction, however, if you contribute tuition for a specific student. He said that was a “fine line,” and supported this bill to allow such a deduction on North Dakota taxes and suggested it ought to be the same for federal taxes.

The opposition, though, didn’t just come from Democrats loyal to the teacher union. Anderson, one of the Republicans who voted against the bill, worried about what impact there would be on the autonomy of private schools “once they become dependent” on state dollars. Which isn’t exactly an on-point comment, since we’re talking about a tax deduction here not a subsidy or appropriation, but a fair enough point. Government does like to use policies like these to control private businesses, including private schools.

But I don’t think that argument outweighs the benefit school choice policies would have for North Dakota students. It’s high time we started prioritizing students and parents ahead of education bureaucrats and their turf wars.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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