In her piece, “Kudos to DeVos for new initiative” published in the April 15 issue of the Bismarck Tribune, Star Parker mentioned the National Education Association several times, specifically NEA’s public statements chastising Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her efforts to send more public monies into private education.
As the president of North Dakota United, a proud affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, I’d like to comment on Parker’s assertions.
Parker is a syndicated columnist and the founder and CEO of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, an organization that espouses the belief that monies raised for public education ought to be used to subsidize private school education.
Article VIII, Section 5 of the North Dakota Constitution, states that:
“All colleges, universities, and other educational institutions, for the support of which lands have been granted to this state, or which are supported by a public tax, shall remain under the absolute and exclusive control of the state. No money raised for the support of the public schools of the state shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.” Our founders’ wisdom on this matter is as spot-on now as it was then.
What DeVos has proposed is the diversion of $5 billion in taxpayer provided funds away from public schools and into the bank accounts of private institutions.
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Why is that a bad idea? Because public schools that use public money are held accountable for how those tax dollars are spent. They are governed by elected school boards who must account for every dollar and follow policies that guarantee transparency. Private schools have no obligation to be transparent, or to report to the taxpayers how they are spending their tax dollars.
Public schools have an obligation to provide educational services to every student that walks, rolls, runs or is carried through their schoolhouse doors. The same is not true of private schools. Private schools can admit whomever they please and turn away students based on their sexual orientation, disability, religious beliefs, or any reason at all.
The North Dakota Legislature has consistently sided with North Dakota United in turning away schemes intended to divert public money to private schools. Legislators in both parties see education savings accounts, vouchers and tax credit scholarships as vehicles to direct tax dollars away form their intended purpose of supporting North Dakota’s great public schools.
At a time when most states were decreasing their investments in public schools, North Dakota was doing the opposite. North Dakota has steadily increased its funding for public schools on the state level for the past 10 years, and our local communities also have increased their investments, too. The results speak for themselves. North Dakotans regularly rate the quality of public education as the best in the United States. In a Gallup poll taken in March-December 2015, 89% of North Dakotans surveyed rated public education in our state as excellent or good. Our organization’s internal polling show that North Dakotans regularly give sky-high favorability ratings to our public schools, teachers and education support professionals.
Right now, North Dakota's well managed schools, staffed with well prepared teachers and education support staff, are preparing some 114,000 students to be happy, healthy, and well-educated members of our society. Our work is intentional and on track. Depriving North Dakota's public schools of much needed investment threatens our goal. School choice is fine. Just do not ask North Dakota's taxpayers to pay for that choice.