Saying the measure would promote parental choice, Republican Rep. David Bedey of Hamilton on Monday advocated for his bill that would set clarity in law around what happens when parents and kids want to attend a school outside the district where they live.
The criteria for how school districts handle and decide those requests is not defined in law, but Bedey’s bill aims to do so, along with putting a clear path for how the money from taxpayers to cover education costs in their area follows the student.
“House Bill 203 is designed to empower parents to make decisions about their children’s education. It’s also designed to correct the issue of tax equity,” Bedey told a hearing before the House Education committee.
State law now allows for parents to pick a different district for their child, but the request can be denied by either their district of residency or their district of choice. Bedey’s bill would only allow a district to deny a request based on specific circumstances. It would clarify how the district of residence must provide funding to the district of attendance and clarify that the money received by the district the student moves to must be used to increase that district’s base levy.
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That would ensure that people living in a district where students move wouldn’t see increased property taxes since the student’s resident district would still pay for that child, Bedey said.
Bedey said he understood the bill would be controversial for some, but he called it a “zero-sum” game even though there would be winners and losers based on whether a district gains or loses kids.
Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Board Association, spoke in support of the bill. He said it would make sure parents don’t have to foot the cost of choosing a school and that taxpayers of the district of residence are responsible for ensuring a child’s education regardless of where the child goes to school. He also said it would protect property tax payers in the district where the child moves.
Dylan Klapmeier, Gov. Greg Gianforte’s education adviser, also spoke in support of the bill, saying it was a “public school open enrollment bill that will truly expand choice.”
The only opposition to the bill Monday came from Disability Rights Montana, which raised concerns about making sure the needs for students with disabilities were fully covered, though the group said it could support the bill with amendments.
When asked, Bedey said no consideration was given to weighing transfers made for academic versus athletic reasons differently.
“Parents and children have many motivations for wanting to choose one district or another,” Bedey said. “It could be academic, it could be they see a route to satisfaction, maybe a career or a scholarship. This bill does not seek in any way to question what a parent’s motivation is for having their child go to a different district.”
Bedey also said he’s seen a desire for more parental engagement in the education of their children.
“We should view this not as a threat but as an opportunity,” he said. “This particular bill provides an opportunity to respond to the desires of parents.”
The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.