Montana Senate endorses major school choice bill

2013-02-14T18:00:00Z 2013-03-17T20:16:46Z Montana Senate endorses major school choice bill

HELENA – The state Senate on Thursday advanced one of the session’s major school choice bills, which creates a new state income tax credit for donating to “scholarship organizations” that help students attending private schools.

On a mostly party-line vote with Republicans in favor, the Senate endorsed Senate Bill 81 on a 28-22 vote. All Democrats voted against the measure and Sen. Chas Vincent of Libby was the only Republican against it.

The bill advances to the House if a final Senate vote today approves the measure.

SB81, sponsored by Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, allows individuals to reduce as much as half of their state income taxes by an amount equal to 40 percent of their donation to a scholarship organization. Corporations’ tax credit would be 20 percent of any donation.

The aggregate total of the tax credits is limited to $2.5 million a year.

Lewis said the scholarship organizations are set up to provide scholarships to children attending private schools, to help low- and middle-income families.

“Not every kid fits into the public school system,” he said. “The public school system is wonderful, but it doesn’t work for every child.”

Parents would choose the private school for their child and apply to the organization for a scholarship, Lewis said.

SB81 is one of five school choice bills still alive at the Legislature, all of which would use income tax credits or public funds to assist families choosing to send children to a private school or educator.

Most Republicans are supporting the measures, while minority Democrats have been voting in a bloc against them.

State revenue officials estimated that SB81’s tax credits would cost the state about $6.5 million the next two years. Lewis said he thinks that amount is overstated, because it lowballs the number of students who would leave public school to attend private school.

The state saves money if it funds fewer students in public school.

Sen. Tom Facey, D-Missoula, who opposed the bill, said it uses state money to fund scholarships to schools that don’t have to have certified teachers or report to the state in any way.

“Where is the accountability?” he said. “There isn’t any. We know that Montana (public) schools are in the top five for science. … We’re not going to know anything about this.”

Democratic Sen. Dick Barrett of Missoula also said that Montana’s income tax system already has far too many tax credits, and SB81 adds yet another expensive credit that will benefit few people.

“It’s taking us in exactly the wrong way we want to go if we want to broaden the tax base, lower rates and simplify our tax system,” he said.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at

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(4) Comments

  1. idiot state
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    idiot state - February 15, 2013 5:12 pm
    All private schools are not religious based. Our experience is that they are far superior to the union based government controlled public schools. Parents should have a choice, and receive a bit of taxpayer help WHILE they still pay, continue to pay, for public schools.
  2. brmoderate
    Report Abuse
    brmoderate - February 15, 2013 9:55 am
    This is a bad, bad thing. If you want to send your child to private school, that is ok, but this country achieved its greatness partially through great public schools. A free education for everyone allowed everyone to advance. By eroding the base of public education, the system is bound to change and probably not for the better. Public schools will still have to deal with those students who have emotional and physical problems because private schools don't have to nor do they have the means to. I know there are changes needed in the public schools but this is not the way to do it. These parents that can't afford private schools and want some help funding their private schools, why aren't they involved in the public schools, making it better. Oh, wait, don't have time for that.
    The other thing about public schools, it teaches our children tolerance. Don't see that much in private schools, and yes, I am around public and private school educated children and see this all the time. The gaps in our society will just get wider and wider. Please veto this.
  3. Mojoh
    Report Abuse
    Mojoh - February 15, 2013 9:11 am
    You want religion based schools tax payer funded? No. Pay for it yourself, this isn't Pakistan.
  4. idiot state
    Report Abuse
    idiot state - February 15, 2013 7:22 am
    Try getting this past your big labor union controlled liberal governor. Liberals are for choice very specific instances, not having anything to do with education.
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