We’ve long been advocates of true school choice in North Dakota. Unfortunately, many in our State Legislature have turned a deaf ear to the idea. That desperately needs to change.
In fact, the North Dakota Senate was so vehemently opposed to the idea of school choice — during the 2019 Legislative Session — that they defeated a bill that merely called for a study of it. The final vote was 13-33. It was a pathetic display of support for the public school monopoly, while simultaneously being a slap in the face to parents interested in having some control over the tax dollars that fund their children’s education.
Fast forward to March 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the first things Governor Doug Burgum did was close “all K-12 schools” via Executive Orders. There was a problem though. Burgum and the Department of Public Instruction had to address the fact that state law doesn’t permit distance learning. So, the governor took care of that with the stroke of a pen as well. Schools quickly developed — and finished out the year with — “Distance Learning Plans”.
It’s worth noting here that the only students unaffected by the K-12 COVID-19 hoopla were homeschoolers. For them, it was business as usual. But I digress.
As summer progressed, people across North Dakota wondered how the upcoming 2020-2021 school year would be handled. In mid-July, Governor Burgum announced that schools would be permitted to open in the fall— with some caveats. Not only would districts be required to have Health & Safety Plans, but they had to update Distance Learning Plans too.
For some of the state’s larger schools, masks are a requirement. In some districts, hybrid models of distance learning are being utilized. In others, distance learning is an option for those deemed vulnerable or too concerned to attend in-person.
Indeed, the circumstances we’ve seen play out with COVID-19 are yet another example of why North Dakota needs true school choice. How many more parents would choose an alternative for their children if they had access to per pupil funding — or even a percentage of it — via an Education Savings Account?
I’m convinced that under these conditions even more parents would choose to homeschool. Others would choose private schools. And some would give established online learning models a try. Yet, as things are now, many parents undoubtedly feel boxed in to the singular choice of public education. After all, the other choices are an expense on top of the taxes they already pay. And some families just can’t afford it.
Our elected leaders need to stop protecting the public school monopoly and start doing what’s best for North Dakota’s families.