You probably didn’t know it (I didn’t), but January 21st – 27th was School Choice Week in North Dakota. Governor Doug Burgum declared it such via proclamation. It paralleled National School Choice Week as set via proclamation by President Donald Trump. A local news station did a pretty good piece on it that you can see here.
On the heels of School Choice Week was an article that came out yesterday showing the number of home-schooled children in North Dakota has more than doubled over the last ten years. While it mentions some of the reasons for the increase, it naturally didn’t identify them all.
Last February, we published an article in which I laid out 18 reasons to opt out of public education in favor of homeschooling. The response was exceptional. One reader suggested there was probably 100 reasons to homeschool. So, I challenged readers of The Minuteman that if they could provide me 100 reasons that I’d follow up with an article of the updated list. Well, they didn’t disappoint. Just days later, we published an article containing 105 reasons to homeschool your children.
Now, just in case you haven’t read those articles, I want to be clear that I fully realize homeschooling isn’t for everyone. Nor is it the only alternative to traditional public schools. And that’s why we support school choice in North Dakota here at The Minuteman. Perhaps you’re thinking, “But don’t we have school choice in North Dakota already?” Not exactly. Let me explain.
It’s true that parents in North Dakota can choose to educate their children in the traditional public school setting, a private school, or on-line and homeschool options. But here’s the problem– you get dinged… twice. If you choose any option other than a public school, you’ll pay for that option on top of what you’re already paying in taxes for the public school system.
In addition to this reality, there are alternative options to education that don’t even exist in North Dakota. For example, North Dakota is one of just six states that doesn’t have Charter Schools. Nor are there Magnet Schools. Considering all of these things, is it any wonder our state ranks an awful 51st on The Center for Education Reform’s “Parent Power Index“?
It seems that as a state we’re just slow in coming around to the idea of embracing alternatives to what Governor Doug Burgum has referred to as the public school “monopoly”. After all, homeschooling wasn’t even legal in the state until 1989.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to true school choice in North Dakota is our own State Constitution. That obstacle is known as the “Blaine Amendment“– which is found in Article VIII and reads in part:
“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.”
While supporters of the Blaine Amendment cry that its repeal would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution, it just isn’t so. For one reason, under the original intent of the U.S. Constitution, the federal government has no authority in matters of education. So, the Blaine Amendment should be a state issue, judged only by our own State Constitution. But even if we put that aside, and embrace the Incorporation Doctrine of today, repealing the Blaine Amendment doesn’t establish a state religion. And therefore, it cannot be a violation of the Establishment Clause to repeal it.
In rulings from the United States Supreme Court last year, it appears the Blaine Amendment may be in trouble anyhow. North Dakota’s own Rob Port wrote about this on the Say Anything Blog here and here.
But as it stands now in North Dakota, people with any religious views are forced to fund secular education – through taxation – without any access to those funds for alternative methods of schooling. Taxpayers should be treated equally. And under the current legal structure, in regards to education in the state, we’re not.
It should also be pointed out that alternatives to public schools are often cheaper. Last September, we published an article discussing the costs associated with K-12 education in the state. And as part of that article, we pointed out that in a document obtained from North Dakota’s own Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the average per pupil cost for the 2015-2016 school year was $11,945.17. We compared that to a homeschool family I know who incurred a cost of $2,744.98 for the year… for three children– a per pupil cost of $914.99.
Imagine a situation where true school choice was available with Education Savings Accounts (ESA). Under these accounts, parents would have the ability to access funds for the education they feel best suits their child’s needs. Not only could this be done in such a way that it actually saves the state money (and therefore the taxpayer), but parents could possibly even save enough over the course of their child’s K-12 education to pay for post-secondary education as well.
Naturally, there’s always going to be opposition to these ideas. Many people don’t take kindly to breaking up the public school monopoly. Among those is Nick Archuleta, who’s President of North Dakota United – the state’s public employee union. Last year Archuleta expressed his view that:
“There’s no need in North Dakota for charter schools. The kids in North Dakota are getting a damn good education.”
Archuleta’s statement is one of contempt for the idea of school choice. And not only that, but it’s an arrogant statement that says parents really don’t know what’s best for their children when it comes to choosing their education.
Governor Doug Burgum, DPI Superintendent Kirsten Baesler, and others are now trying to move North Dakota into an era of “innovation in education”. But there’s only one way to effectively accomplish this– we must end the monopoly of public education. Otherwise, it will all prove to be nothing more than catch phrases and political platitudes. And our children deserve better than that.