HELENA – House Republicans on 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 on Tuesday, 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.”

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or at mike.dennison@lee.net.

(13) comments

Just the facts
Just the facts

THE HOUSE JUST DEFEATED THE BILL ON CHARTER SCHOOLS 50 TO 49 on third reading!!

Bandit218
Bandit218

MT mama. I want my tax dollars to pay for my kids, not yours. You pay for your school and I'll pay for mine.

idiot state
idiot state

Then by that logic, if those against vouchers for charter or private schools are against using tax dollars for that purpose, then those without children in the public union schools should also not have to pay for others' kids. Montanans deserve a choice. By the way, all "private" schools aren't necessarily religious. Our children received a superior education in private vs public union schools. And Montana's schools aren't the greatest, though they sure are the recipient of lots of public dollars.

Still Here
Still Here

Here is something else you can put in your smoking pipe, I don't have kids, Why should I pay for your brats to go to school. Why should I pay to have some kid play sports or other baby sitting activity. So I recommend that Parent, YOU pony up and pay for your private schools and your activities, If We are asked to pay for the PRIVATE CORPORATE schools, YOU pay,

The_Boneshackler
The_Boneshackler

These 'school choice' bills have never been about choice. The goal here is to privatize America's public schools, eliminate the teacher's unions, hire low-wage, poorly qualified teachers, and transfer as many tax dollars into the pockets of the Oligarchs as possible. Do some research, and you will see just how much graft and corruption exists in the charter school industry. Degrading our chidren's educational opportunities so that vulture capitalists can extract more tax dollars for themselves in unconscionable.

Voterincounty
Voterincounty

It would be nice if I could send my child to another school district in Montana, and have the voucher cover the cost of tuition for that transfer. The money still stays in the public system but I at least have a choice for my student to attend a system that offers more that the bargain basement (copy and paste) education in Florence MT..

MT_Mama
MT_Mama

No one is opposing choice in schools. Want to send your kids to a private school? Go ahead. Just don't expect my tax dollars to pay for it. What part of "private" do people not get? Most of these schools are religious and so to have taxpayers subsidizing them is unconstitutional. Again, no one says you can't send your kids to one.

Still Here
Still Here

Walter, You must be a product of some other form of education. SO Lets let corporate America privatize education, they are doing such a great job with everything else. If you want it, YOU pay for it. Dump the Electives, football, basketball, music etc, if YOU want it you pay for it. Lets dump any rules and requirement, Instill Corporal Punishment in school again, The people with wealth get education and the others ???? You want it, Great.

idiot state
idiot state

Here's where the liberals in Montana really shine, really show their true colors. Choice?
Not on your life!! (Liberals are only for choice when it comes to infant killing) Montana's schools are lousy, with substandard curriculums, facilities and resources. But the state's politicians are controlled by the big labor unions-what a conundrum! Parents and students deserve an alternative to the union schools, and they deserve to have support from that backward state. Montana'll never raise above 49th place in the union unless it changes its politicsl

Aberdeen
Aberdeen

Choices about reproductive rights don't come with a $550 tax credit, out of our tax coffers! My folks paid for me to go to a Catholic school many yeras ago, just assuming that it was their "choice" with out taxpayer assistance. Want something different than Public Schools, pay up out of your own pocket!

mike1
mike1

The Montana schools are very good, according to published national standards--where did you get your facts? Also, if you lean out the public funding by funding various educational choices, no one ends up with much of an education--completely defeating the purpose of the public good from education. Privatizing education is like privatizing our military. I don't think the public good is accomplished by having mercenaries fighting our wars or substantial funding for all possible school systems (so that all choices are "poor")

walter12
walter12

Oh, but let us have tax money for everything else a good liberal wants. If our public schools are so good as everyone says they are, what are the afraid of?

John P Weber
John P Weber

NO tax money for private schools! Unless they are placed under the supervision of the state schools supervisor. And having to follow the same standards. And even then, parents should be required to pay the tuition strictly out of their own pockets with NO tax credit.

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