Anti-public school bills abound

March 4, 2013 / Comments (0)


Feb-March 2013



We urge folks who believe in public schools for all children to contact legislators and tell them: “I OPPOSE any bills that divert public tax dollars to private or charter schools.”


Go here to send a message to your local legislators. It’s quick, free, and easy.  


Not sure who your legislator is? Find out here.

We are seeing an all-out assault on public schools this legislative session. To date, several bills meant to privatize public schools have been introduced.


Their backers call them “school choice” bills. But “choice” in this context is a term like “No Child Left Behind” — a nice-sounding term that’s designed to hide the true purpose of the measure.


MEA-MFT is fighting these bills. We have been able to kill one of of them, at least for now (HB 315, see below).

House Bills 288, 357, and 390 are voucher bills. 

They permit a parent to shop around either for special education purposes (HBs 288 and 390) – or for regular education (HB 357). Parents may choose just about any provider they want – public or private, sectarian or not. 


All three bills deny any state regulatory authority over providers. 


All three bills claim homeschools cannot be providers . . . . but as there is NO statutory definition of a homeschool, these claims have no meaning.


All three bills suck public dollars out of our public school system, a system governed and accountably and transparently controlled by elected local boards of trustees and the state board of public education.


HBs 288, 357, and 390 raise serious constitutional questions.


HB 390 was tabled in House Education Committee. The rest are still alive.

House Bill 213 and Senate Bill 81 are tuition tax credit bills. 

They are basically voucher bills disguised as something else.


HB 213 is a straightforward, old fashioned tuition tax credit bill. We have seen bills like this every session since 1993.


HB 213 permits a taxpayer to claim up to $550 in a tax credit per scholarship to any private school, religious or not. 


A tax credit is a tax deduction on steroids.  It authorizes the taxpayer to subtract the entire amount of credit from the bottom line tax obligation.


Like all privatization bills, HB 213 claims to exclude parents educating their kids in homeschools from qualifying for tuition tax credits, but again, what is a homeschool? 


HB 213 passed House 2nd reading and is now in House Appropriations.


Senate Bill 81 (Lewis) creates taxpayer funded public and private scholarship organizations that would receive tax credit dollars and redistribute those dollars through student scholarships to public and private schools, religious or not.


Greg Gianforte, a Bozeman transplant and uber-wealthy businessman, is among those pushing the bill to permit him and other individual and corporate income tax payers to earmark how their tax dollars are expended and get a tax credit in so doing. SB 81 has passed the Senate.


HB 213 and SB 81 are frontal assaults on public education, our constitution, and our state’s general fund. 

House Bill 315 was a charter school bill. Read more on the charter school fallacy here.


HB 315 died on 3rd reading in the House, thanks to hard work by MEA-MFT members, governance and staff. However, it has been resurrected in SB 374 (Lewis). We’ll likely fight this bad idea throughout the 2013 session.


SB 374 (the resurrected HB 315) looks remarkably like the ALEC inspired charter school bill introduced in the 2011 legislative session, a bill that passed the House and later died.


SB 374 diverts taxpayer money from public schools to so-called “public” charter schools, that would be “public” in name only.


SB 374 sells public schools to the highest bidder, a bidder that might be an international corporation with offices in Chicago or Singapore. 


It erodes Montana citizens’ power to directly govern their own public schools. There would be no accountability to taxpayers.


It allows taxpayer-funded charter schools to hire almost anyone to teach – no license or endorsement required.


It boots collective bargaining and union contracts out the door. Teachers and school support staff would have no protection in the workplace.


SB 374 doesn’t allow charter school teachers to participate in the Teachers Retirement System.


In short, SB 374 goes against Montana’s history, culture, constitution, fair play, and good sense.


Montanans everywhere should be outraged by these attempts to weaken if not destroy public schooling in Montana.  


Great piece by Rep. Edie McClafferty against school privatization. 

Points of view on school privatization:


Here is the right-wing message on privatizing public schools, authored by former state Senator Joe Balyeat: 


Here is the pro-public schools message, authored by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver.


News articles:

Opponents rip into school choice tax credit bill – Billings Gazette, March 8, 2013

State Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Dennis Parman didn’t mince words Friday when he blasted supporters of this session’s major bill creating tax credits to help finance scholarships for kids attending private schools in Montana. Read more


Charter schools a hot topic at video conference – Havre Daily News 2-13-13

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson said he had received calls from a number of superintendents asking him to speak on the issue at the video conference.

He said the bills proposed would cut funding for schools in an amount ranging from 65 percent per student in some bills to 100 percent in others. Read more

‘School choice’ bills advance on mostly party-line votes 



A trio of “school-choice” bills that use state funds or tax credits to help finance private or charter schools passed out of legislative committees Wednesday on mostly party-line votes, with Democrats solidly opposed.


Republicans on the Senate and House education committees, with one exception, all voted for the bills, which now advance to the House or Senate floors for debate.


“I really, strongly believe that the idea of (school) choice is something that should be looked at,” said Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, the sponsor of one of the measures.


Not one Democrat voted for any of the bills. They said Montana has a fine system of public schools and does not need to be using public funds to help finance private education ventures.


“I don’t see the problem (with public schools),” said Rep. Franke Wilmer, D-Bozeman. “What I do see is an agenda. It’s a national agenda to put public money in the hands of nonpublic and private schools.”


The bills passing out of committee Wednesday were:


Senate Bill 81, sponsored by Lewis, which creates state income-tax credits for contributing to nonprofit organizations that offer scholarships to children attending private schools. The credits are 40 percent of an individual’s donation, up to an aggregate total of $2.5 million for all credits in a year.


House Bill 213, which offers state income-tax credits worth up to $550 per student attending a nonpublic school. The tax credit can be taken by anyone who pays the child’s tuition for private school. Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, is the bill’s sponsor. It’s estimated to cost the state treasury $6 million the next two years.


HB315, which allows creation of public charter schools, although they could be run by a private entity. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, states the schools will receive public money that would pay for the students as if they were attending a public, noncharter school.


SB81 and HB213 passed their respective committees on strictly party-line votes, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.


The charter-school bill passed the House Education Committee on a 10-8 vote, with all Democrats and Rep. Ted Washburn, R-Bozeman, opposed.


Lewis’ bill, however, was amended to reduce the scope of its tax credits.


In its original form, SB81 said any individual or corporation could write off its entire donation to a student-scholarship organization, up to $5 million a year total, for all credits. If one person donated $5 million to such an organization and had a tax liability of that amount, they would have been able to reduce their tax bill by the entire amount.


Lewis agreed to an amendment to get it out of committee, reducing the aggregate credits to $2.5 million a year and saying individuals could write off only 40 percent of their donations and corporations 20 percent.


“This is a start,” he said after the committee vote. “It will probably provide an opportunity for a few more people to get scholarships to let their parents make a choice on where they go to school. Some who were working (on the bill) were very disappointed about (the credit) being cut back.”


Lewis said he thinks the change will more than cut in half the bill’s estimated $16.5 million impact over the next two years.


Democrats on the Senate Education Committee still opposed the measure, saying it’s likely unconstitutional because it essentially takes public money to be used to finance private, religious schools.


Republicans on the House Education Committee made no comments in support of either HB315 or HB213 before voting for them.

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