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House Republicans continue to advance `school choice’ bills through Legislature

2013-02-12T00:00:00Z House Republicans continue to advance `school choice’ bills through LegislatureBy MIKE DENNISON State Bureau Helena Independent Record
February 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

HELENA – House Republicans Monday endorsed a trio of “school-choice” bills, including ones that authorize charter schools in Montana and create state income-tax credits for families sending their kids to private schools.

“Not all kids are educated well in the public school system,” said Rep. Christy Clark, R-Choteau, arguing for the tax-credit bill. “This is a modest bill … that gives kids options.”

The three bills gained debate-stage approval on mostly party-line votes, with Republicans in favor; not a single Democrat in the House voted for any of the measures.

“If you want to have access to private schools, that’s fine,” said Rep. Franke Wilmer, D-Bozeman. “Just don’t ask for taxpayer money to fund them.”

Bills advancing “school choice,” which usually means using public money or tax credits to help finance charter schools or private schools, have become one of the clearly partisan issues at the 2013 Legislature.

Republicans argue that not all children flourish in public schools, and the state should help parents who want other education options for their children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Democrats say Montana’s public schools already are performing well, and that the push for school choice is a nationally driven agenda that will benefit a small minority of families and drain away money available to fund public schools.

The three bills endorsed Monday face a final vote in the House today, after which they’ll advance to the state Senate, which also is controlled by Republicans. Two other school-choice bills were heard in a House committee Monday afternoon and a sixth bill awaits action by the full Senate.

The measures endorsed Monday are:

•House Bill 213, which offers state income-tax credits worth up to $550 per student attending a nonpublic school. The tax credit can be taken by anyone who pays the child’s tuition for private school.

Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, is sponsoring the bill, which is estimated to cost the state treasury $6 million the next two years. The House endorsed the measure Monday 59-41, with two Republicans voting no.

• HB315, allows creation of public charter schools, although they could be run by a private entity. It won endorsement on a 56-44 vote, with five Republicans opposed. Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, is the sponsor.

• HB288, sponsored by Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, R-Superior, would set up “special education savings accounts” that can use public school funds to pay for a special-needs student to attend an alternative, private education program. It passed 61-39 on a strictly party-line vote.

The charter-school bill garnered the most debate Monday, as Democrats blasted the measure as a “slap in the face” to taxpayers, teachers and rural Montanans, because it allows creation of schools that are exempt from most education regulations and that are unlikely to serve rural areas.

Rep. Casey Schreiner, D-Great Falls, said while public money from all across the state would support the schools, they’re likely to be in urban areas, where they can attract the most students.

Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, said it’s true the schools would be exempt from “excessive state regulations,” but that the schools will be public and that she expects most of the teachers to be certified professionals.

Knudsen, the bill’s sponsor, also admitted the bill was written by the Washington, D.C.,-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, but that shouldn’t matter.

“I don’t care who wrote this bill,” he said. “It could come from the Democratic National Committee, for all I care. It’s meant to help our Montana students. It’s meant to give our parents choice. It’s the right thing to do.”

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. ThinkFirstThenVote
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    ThinkFirstThenVote - February 12, 2013 11:03 pm
    Just some background on the school choice bills. They're a favorite of the South because after public schools were integrated, a lot of southern whites set up private schools for their kids. So when ALEC puts together model legislation for Republican legislators, they all propose the same bills across the country. But this really hurts small schools in Montana a lot. They're paid by the enrolled student by the state. I come from a small town with under 40 kids in K-12. When a family from Alaska moved to town with 8 kids, they were excited to have new people in school. But since she's home-schooling, they won't be involved in sports or school and the school will be short about $50,000 in school funding from the state. That pays for a teacher, you know. In some state, the Republicans passed laws which require school districts to write checks to families who home school or send their kids to private school and some districts in Pennsylvania were running out of money months before the school year ended because it was such a ridiculous amount. Rick Santorum's wife was collecting $44,000 a year for home schooling their 7 kids. Home schooling is a choice and sure they spent money on books -- but to ask a school district to give a single family the equivalent of a teacher's salary when that money would be used to teach a class of 20-30 kids is just wrong. I think the MT GOP's bills are just the first step towards that.
  2. justme59601
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    justme59601 - February 12, 2013 4:20 pm
    and why are all you democrats so against this? is it maybe because with people leaving the public schools you can't indoctrinate other people's offsrping on the tax payer dime??
  3. mac101
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    mac101 - February 12, 2013 3:22 pm
    I thought the over-arching goal of the Republican Party was LESS government, not more? For all the folks who insist not a penny of their tax dollars should go to fund abortion, PBS, saving the whales, etc. - I don't want a penny of my tax dollars funding a religious agenda, especially in the schools.

    But let's be honest here - a $500 tax credit is chump change, and won't help one family send one child to a private school, and the sponsors of this bill know it. So let's call this bill what it is: shameful pandering to radical ideology that will not fix a thing, but will continue to appease the party faithful.
  4. Mojoh
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    Mojoh - February 12, 2013 11:22 am
    Why is it it is always sanctimonious Republicans so "heck" bent on forcing religion in the public square, especially when it comes to public schools? Religiously indoctrinate your offspring elsewhere, not on the tax payer dollar.
  5. tekkie
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    tekkie - February 12, 2013 10:38 am
    "Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, is sponsoring the bill, which is estimated to cost the state treasury $6 million the next two years." Great, just what we need. More money taken from the public school system. I though Republicans were against anything that takes money from the treasury, but apparently not. I thought they wanted to improve the public school system, but apparently not. The statement about letting children go to schools where they would flourish better is a joke. I take that to mean they would prefer private schools that focus on particular religious practices. Let those parents fund their own external, private schools, because a $500 tax break is not going to help the average family get their kids into a private school that costs $5000 per year. Better to keep that money in the public school system, where FREE education is available TO ALL. Even better: add more funding to the public school system, but don't let that money go toward the administration. It should go toward school supplies, textbooks, training tools, etc.
  6. AntiXenophobia
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    AntiXenophobia - February 12, 2013 9:01 am
    I wish our politicians had more intelligence. Seems like the folks who are writing these bills are copying what the national republican party is pushing, which is a school choice agenda developed for urban areas. If you live in Big Sandy, for example, what private/charter school is going to open up and compete with the public school for the 30 kids who are enrolled in school? For a charter school system to work, you need a lot of kids, otherwise you get two schools with barely any kids and barely any resources. There are 7 school districts in Montana with enough kids to make charter shools feasible, by my estimation. That leaves over 400 districts without enough kids for this legislation to matter. And in the large districts like Helena, the public schools offer a greater variety of options already. You can put your kid in a montessori program. In Missoula, the high schools offer different programs, like the International Baccalaureate program. If these fools in the legislature want to improve education in Montana, they are going to have to do their own thinking, and not borrow from programs developed for large urban areas.
  7. Darth Vader
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    Darth Vader - February 12, 2013 9:00 am
    This is not about school choice. It is about funneling pubic funds to foster a right wing religious right agenda. There are plenty of choices...private schools, public schools, home school and PAL programs. The at risk kids they talk about do not and will never have the social structure or the financial means to attend private school, no matter what tax incentives are given. These Bills will only benefit the kids that are currently attending such schools and most come from familys that are not near the poverty line. It is nothing more than a smoke screen
  8. wonkerbean
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    wonkerbean - February 12, 2013 7:52 am
    Republicans using public funds to bail out private business is such a novel concept, reminds me of the Bush years.
  9. Agenda
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    Agenda - February 12, 2013 7:30 am
    The Republicans have clearly lost touch the the good feelings that Montanans have about their schools. The three proposals they voted for will drain funding from the state coffers for pet projects of individuals or corporations - some from out of state - or even out of the country. More money to China - or even to a for-profit corporation? Without oversight and accountability that we now have in the public school system. That's the R plan?

    Back in my day, my mom told me that if I got in trouble in school I was going to be in trouble at home. These folks think that if a child has trouble in school, we simply ask the government or taxpayers for money to create a school the kid will like. The Rs agree with that? These are not Rs that I knew growing up.

    I'm a moderate, but these Rs are pushing me further into the arms of the Ds, who seem to have a better sense of reality and Montana.

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