School choice advocates -- losers at 2013 session -- vow to return with same bills

2013-05-17T16:59:00Z 2013-05-18T00:03:21Z School choice advocates -- losers at 2013 session -- vow to return with same billsBy MIKE DENNISON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — While advocates of school choice struck out again this year in Montana, failing to enact a bill providing tax credits or any public money for private or charter schools, they say they’re not giving up.

“We just have to keep working on it,” said Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, the sponsor of two major school choice bills at the 2013 Legislature. “I just think the inclusion of this issue is too important to go away.”

Lewis served his last session in 2013, because of term limits, but said Friday he’ll be working during the next year to find a fellow legislator to carry the bills in 2015.

Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation – a major backer of the bills – also wrote on the organization’s website last week that he hopes to create enough public support and pressure to compel Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to sign a school choice bill into law in 2015.

Almost two weeks ago, Bullock vetoed the only school choice bill that made it through the Legislature: Senate Bill 81, sponsored by Lewis, which would have created $2.5 million a year in state income tax credits for donors to nonprofit scholarship organizations that grant scholarships to children attending private schools.

In his veto message, Bullock said he is against subsidizing private schools with “tax revenues redirected from the public treasury.”

Montana is one of only several states with no school choice laws.

Lawmakers killed a half-dozen other school choice bills at the 2013 Legislature, including another tax credit bill, two charter school bills and three bills creating tax-supported vouchers for various students attending non-public schools.

Democrats in the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, uniformly opposed all school choice bills, as did the public-school community and the state’s largest labor union, MEA-MFT, which represents teachers, other school employees and many non-school workers. Enough Republicans opposed the measures to help Democrats kill all but SB81.

Eric Feaver, president of MEA-MFT, said he’s disappointed that SB81 made it to the governor’s desk, and that its passage was the product of some late-session vote-trading in the House. The bill emerged from the House Appropriations Committee on an 11-10 vote two days before the Legislature ended and passed the House 54-45 on the session’s final day.

“Now (school choice advocates) are just going to say, ‘We’re only one governor away from making this happen, and if you just keep giving us money, we’ll be in business next session,’” he said Friday.

Feaver said Montana families already have plenty of school choice, both within the public-school system and among private and home schools.

So-called school choice advocates are really just advocates for non-public schools, and want to use public money to subsidize that choice, Feaver said, undermining the funding for options within the public-school system.

“You can’t tell me that if we go down this school choice road, that we won’t have a real conflict over (education) funding,” Feaver said. “It’s not just public schools that lose revenue, either; it’s the whole state that loses money.”

Lewis and other advocates of school choice argue that not every child thrives in public school, and that some of those kids’ families can’t afford private school and could use some help in the form of tax credits or scholarships supported by tax credits.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

  1. native mt
    Report Abuse
    native mt - May 20, 2013 6:11 am
    Dumbing down is EXACTLY what happened when my niece's children when they moved from Highland School to Newman. Sad.
  2. Special-Edward
    Report Abuse
    Special-Edward - May 18, 2013 1:47 pm
    Sorry about the reposting, I didn't think it was going through. Even though for some people it still didn't get through. My kid is in public school, but sits in a class where hes already learned 90 percent of what's being taught. The only program they offer is one day a week of extended studies, advanced classes aren't offered until 7th grade. Why shouldn't all walks of life get the opportunity to be the best they can be. I guess I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed, that my child's name will get drawn so he can get the best education that's out there.
  3. bigskynative
    Report Abuse
    bigskynative - May 18, 2013 12:21 pm
    Like private schools? Good for you.

    Just don't use my tax dollars to fund them. Don't allow others to steal our tax dollars for public education with tax breaks either.

    Glad to hear your kid is doing good, Special. Both of my kids went to public schools are just about done with college now. They also took every advanced class we have at our public school. How many home schools or underpaid private scholars can even teach mathematics, english, or upper level science?

    Point being all kids get a shot in public schools. What they do with it is up to them.

    My kids went to school with kids from all walks of life (and incomes). They treat all people as equals. What did you kid learn about that?
  4. Special-Edward
    Report Abuse
    Special-Edward - May 18, 2013 11:43 am
    Study harder? What a joke. My son is in the 4th grade and reads at a 12th grade level, the only school in the district that handles advanced kids is polly elementary 5th and 6th grade. Out of the 140 students that qualifies to attend, they are having a lottery drawing to take 4 boys and 4 girls. So if you have your kids study harder just be prepared for sd2 to dumb them back down.
  5. Special-Edward
    Report Abuse
    Special-Edward - May 18, 2013 11:41 am
    Study harder? What a joke. My son is in the 4th grade and reads at a 12th grade level, the only school in the district that handles advanced kids is polly elementary 5th and 6th grade. Out of the 140 students that qualifies to attend, they are having a lottery drawing to take 4 boys and 4 girls. So if you have your kids study harder just be prepared for sd2 to dumb them back down.
  6. Special-Edward
    Report Abuse
    Special-Edward - May 18, 2013 11:35 am
    Study harder? What a joke. My son is in the 4th grade and reads at a 12th grade level, the only school in the district that handles advanced kids is polly elementary 5th and 6th grade. Out of the 140 students that qualifies to attend, they are having a lottery drawing to take 4 boys and 4 girls. So if you have your kids study harder just be prepared for sd2 to dumb them back down.
  7. Special-Edward
    Report Abuse
    Special-Edward - May 18, 2013 11:32 am
    Study harder? What a joke. My son is in the 4th grade and reads at a 12th grade level, the only school in the district that handles advanced kids is polly elementary 5th and 6th grade. Out of the 140 students that qualifies to attend, they are having a lottery drawing to take 4 boys and 4 girls. So if you have your kids study harder just be prepared for sd2 to dumb them back down.
  8. Special-Edward
    Report Abuse
    Special-Edward - May 18, 2013 11:14 am
    Make your kids study harder? What a joke, my fourth grader reads at a 12 grade level. The only school in town for advanced students is polly elementary. Out of the 140 students that qualifies to attend this school, there is a lottery drawing to take 4 boys and 4 girls. So where are these so called options for advanced learning.
  9. Jamey
    Report Abuse
    Jamey - May 18, 2013 6:22 am
    people want the state to pay for their private school education so they don't have learn things like evolution or actual American history.
  10. BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest
    Report Abuse
    BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest - May 18, 2013 6:21 am
    What if the competition is anti science anti equality? Arab? Atheists? Sex party?
  11. BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest
    Report Abuse
    BillingsCapitolofNewOldWest - May 18, 2013 6:19 am
    Tax the churches. ! The are bevomg more political clubs than Christians. The reason we need hover social programs is the churches fail to help the homeless the fraile the poor

  12. Hard2Believe
    Report Abuse
    Hard2Believe - May 17, 2013 8:34 pm
    There are several non-public school choices for students in the Billings area that anyone can send their children to. The governor was right, public money should not be used for private education.
  13. cme
    Report Abuse
    cme - May 17, 2013 8:31 pm
    sd2 needs competition alright. but not with taxpayers money. if people want to sent their kids to private school, let them pay for it. perhaps if they made their kids study harder, they might thrive.
  14. native mt
    Report Abuse
    native mt - May 17, 2013 7:22 pm
    Yes yes yes....SD2 NEEDS competition!

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