The sky won’t fall if North Dakota prioritizes students over systems

As North Dakota legislators consider an educational reimbursement program for families (H.B. 1532), the Chicken Littles are out in full force — engaging in fearmongering to convince North Dakotans that the state’s public education will be significantly harmed if parents are empowered to access a learning environment outside of their neighborhood schools.

I countered several of the claims here, the biggest of which is that school choice programs such as H.B. 1532 “steal” dollars from public schools, but think it’s worth reiterating that the sky won’t fall — and hasn’t — when parents are empowered with more options.

In fact, not only does H.B. 1532 not take money and resources from public schools, participating families would actually bring cost savings to the state.

Here’s how: School funding is allocated by student count, so a student who attends a private school saves the public school the cost of educating that student, with local dollars (from property taxes) still remaining in the local school district. So, the student’s parents pay twice for education — into the public school their child isn’t attending and once for the private school their child uses.

H.B. 1532’s fiscal note is set at $24 million for the biennium. This means that if only roughly 1 percent of current public school students choose to participate in the educational reimbursement program by attending a nonpublic school, it’s a break even for the appropriation in this bill.

Are North Dakota United and the other special interests protecting the status quo that unconfident in their product that they expect a mass exodus from the state’s public school system if the bill passes?

Regardless, the research is rampant that the sky doesn’t fall on public education — even in rural areas — when more families have access to the learning environment that works best for their children.