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.