The 2016-2017 school year has just finished up for schools across North Dakota. But as they head into summer break, education is still on the minds of many. Take for instance the upcoming Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education that will be held June 8th in Bismarck at Legacy High School.
If you’ve followed The Minuteman through the most recent Legislative Session, then you may remember Senate Bill 2186– otherwise known to some as the "Innovative Education Bill". Originally it would have given the Superintendent of Public Instruction unlimited power to provide schools with a "waiver of any state statute or rule" in order to implement an "innovative" education program. Fortunately, that language was caught on the House side of things and sent back to committee where it was narrowed down, through amendment, to specific statutes that could be waived.
Ultimately SB 2186 passed and was signed into law by Governor Doug Burgum. As I explained in my first article on SB 2186, the bill undoubtedly stemmed from Superintendent Kirsten Baesler’s commitment to implement innovative education programs based off the ideas of a venture capitalist and Obama appointee named Ted Dintersmith. Mr. Dintersmith promotes his ideas through his documentary called "Most Likely to Succeed".
Dintersmith will be one of the keynote speakers at the Governor’s Summit on Innovative Education. If you’re interested in his documentary, it will be airing on Prairie Public Television on May 31st at 7pm. You can also register for the summit by going to www.governor.nd.gov.
It’s not surprising that Governor Burgum is hosting such a summit. The fundamental idea of innovative programs seems to jive with Burgum’s idea’s on education. He has repeatedly pointed to the current education system as outdated. In his State of the State address earlier this year, he said:
“We can’t prepare our kids for the 21st century using a 19th-century model."
While people gather from around the state to attend the summit and to listen to Dintersmith and others speak, I fear we may be missing an important element to improving the education of our young people. That element is school choice.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Ted Dintersmith’s ideas are completely without merit. I actually share some of his concerns about the current state of education in America. But I believe school choice needs consideration in North Dakota.
In the most recent Legislative Session, Rep. Rick C. Becker (R – District 7) proposed House Bill 1382, which would have brought school choice to North Dakota. In a nutshell, HB 1382 would have created Education Savings Accounts for qualified students. That per pupil funding would have then been available for a parent to:
"… choose any education method, including nonpublic school, private tutor, online learning, or other qualified provider, which best serves the needs of the program participant."
Rep. Becker’s bill also allowed funds to be carried over from year to year, including the ability to carry over funding into college:
"Any funds remaining in an account at the end of a school year may be carried forward to the next school year. When a program participant graduates from high school, any funds remaining in the program participant’s account may be used only for qualified expenses at an institution of higher education and must be used within five years of high school graduation."
Ultimately, HB 1382 was demoted to a study and then killed in the Senate due to legal concerns with constitutionality. While I understand there were legal concerns, I think it was a mistake for the Senate not to allow the bill to go through as a study.
It seems to me that the innovation that Governor Burgum and others are so desperately looking for can never be fully realized without school choice. The most innovative ways to educate a child are to be found in tailoring education to their needs. And the reality is that this is often never fully accomplished in a public school environment.
The best thing that Governor Burgum can do to help "prepare our kids for the 21st century" is to crush the education establishment by laying the groundwork for school choice in North Dakota. If that requires changing the State Constitution, then so be it. Then, and only then, will we ever fully unleash innovation in education.