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Opponents rip into school-choice tax credit bill

Sponsor has another charter school bill, too
2013-03-08T18:49:00Z 2013-03-08T18:52:28Z Opponents rip into school-choice tax credit billBy MIKE DENNISON IR State Bureau Helena Independent Record
March 08, 2013 6:49 pm  • 

State Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Dennis Parman didn’t mince words Friday when he blasted supporters of this session’s major bill creating tax credits to help finance scholarships for kids attending private schools in Montana.

Parman, speaking to the House Taxation Committee, accused them of spreading “misinformation” on drop-out rates in public schools.

“The drop-out rate in this state never has been, and, in my lifetime, never will be 20 percent,” he said, his voice rising. “It’s probably pretty obvious that I’m pretty tired of hearing that number.

“I’m not going to qualify it as misinformation any more. I’m going to call it disinformation.”

The strong words from Parman highlighted a string of comments slamming Senate Bill 81, as lobbyists representing public-school unions, public school boards, rural schools and school administrators denounced the measure supported by school-choice proponents and asked the panel to kill it.

“We have choice (to attend private schools),” Parman said. “There is choice in Montana. … What (the supporters) should be saying is that they want fiscally, publicly supported choice.”

SB81, sponsored by Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, would create state income-tax credits totaling up to $2.5 million a year for those who donate to a “school scholarship organization” that grants scholarships to kids attending private schools in Montana.

It’s this session’s signature bill for the school-choice movement, which seeks to have public money or tax credits help parents who want to send their kids to a non-public school.

Lewis’ bill has passed the Senate and is now before the House. Sen. Mike Miller, R-Helmville and chairman of the Taxation Committee, said the panel will act on the bill no sooner than late next week.

Lewis also has introduced another school-choice measure, which would create public charter schools – a bill similar to one killed last month in the House.

Lewis’ charter-school bill, SB374, likely will be heard before the Senate Education Committee next Friday.

Legislative rules say the House must suspend its rules to accept a Senate bill that is the same as a bill previously killed by the House.

Lewis said Friday he’s been assured that SB374 differs from the earlier charter-school bill and therefore won’t require a rule-suspension to be accepted by the House – if it manages to get through the Senate.

“A lot of people in the Senate came to me and said, we’ve got to get this (charter school bill) going,” he said. “You can’t talk school choice without charter schools.”

Several other school-choice bills also remain alive in the House.

School-choice advocates, including several parents, testified Friday in favor of Lewis’ SB81, saying their children have thrived in non-public schools, and that they would appreciate the financial help offered by scholarship organizations.

Lewis said at the close of Friday’s hearing that school choice is an emotional issue, and that when a bill takes on an established bureaucracy like the public-school system, members of that bureaucracy will get defensive.

“They simply cannot accept the fact that some people may question what they’re doing,” he told the House Taxation Committee.

Parman said the public high school drop-out rate of 20 percent often cited by school-choice advocates is simply wrong.

The latest, most accurate figure for the percentage of Montana ninth-graders who left public school within four years of entering ninth grade is 16 percent, he said – and that includes people who left school for whatever reason, and who may have returned later or obtained a general-equivalency diploma.

The correct figure for the percentage of kids who dropped out of high school last year was 4.1 percent, he added.

He and other opponents slammed the bill on many fronts, saying it’s unconstitutional, asks for little accountability from private schools, and doesn’t necessarily benefit poor people.

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

(5) Comments

  1. 41-killroy
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    41-killroy - March 12, 2013 7:15 am
    Competition seems to be a bad thing. Oh, and do not the people that have kids pay taxes also? Maybe they should say where there money can go. Lets be fair.
  2. Surviving
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    Surviving - March 12, 2013 3:01 am
    What part of private school don't you understand? If you want your kids to get "your" education, then pay for it yourself. Parents have paid for private school education for years. Why do you want me to help pay yours?
  3. AntiXenophobia
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    AntiXenophobia - March 11, 2013 3:46 pm
    Tax credits for private schools is weak. Private schools, for example, have no requirement to help out special education kids or kids with disabilities. Currently, many (maybe most, maybe all, I am not sure) private schools send kids with special needs to a public school part-time to get special ed services. If you are going to take public money and put it into private schools, you better force those private schools to live up to the same requirements as public schools.

    As for school choice, it is a national republican party platform item, developed for urban areas, which will not help a rural state like Montana. Outside of the 7 large school districts in Montana, "school choice" is nothing but empty words. No one is going to open up a charter school school in Dutton to compete with the public school for 20 kids, because you need far more kids to make money than that. The large school districts already offer more choice than the small districts as well. In Helena you can get into the montessori program, for example. In Missoula the 3 high schools each offer different programs (like Internaional Baccalaureate). The republican legislators need to realize that the ideas they are copying from the national party platform were not developed for them, and won't work in a small state like Montana. If they want to improve education, they need to think for themselves.

    And Steeline, what social engineering are you talking about? I would live to hear a concrete example of this. Being forced to recite the asinine pledge of allegiance, I guess. Or let me ask this, can you name a form of social engineering in public schools that does not exist in private schools?
  4. Mark Sweeney
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    Mark Sweeney - March 11, 2013 9:51 am
    Private schools are just that, Private. Absolutely no public money should be spent on them. I don't want any part of my taxes, NONE, going to fund private schools where I have absolutely no say in their management or structure. Public education is however worthy of may hard earned dollars by providing free education to every child.. I can also get involved in public education decision making by attending local school board meetings, PTAs and voting for members of the local school board. Is public education perfect? No not by a long shot. They are under funded and teachers are under payed. The solutions to their ills are there we just need to pass lefilation that empowers our educators, administration and school boards. No one is saying that private schools or home schools are bad or not needed, just fund them with private money and NO tax dollars.
  5. steeline
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    steeline - March 09, 2013 12:16 pm
    It is about choice. It isn't about graduation rate. There are some folks who believe they can better provide a balanced education for their children themselves. Public school agenda is too oriented toward social engineering for government purposes. People should be able to teach their own. If public schools were not so political maybe there would be no need for private schools.

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