The text of this radio broadcast is below:
When you work at the capitol the first thing you learn is to be extremely flexible and roll with the punches. Everything is fluid, meetings change on a moment’s notice, and things rarely go according to plan. As a result, you savor those moments when plans do come together and victory is the order of the day. Today is one of those days.
It all began yesterday on the floor of the house when House Bill 239 came up for debate. If you recall that’s the bill to require parental permission prior to teaching sex education. We asked you to call the legislature and you did…IN DROVES. As a result, the bill passed 57 to 43, mainly along party lines with all democrats voting no along with Republicans Doc Moore of Missoula, Steve Gibson of Helena, Roger Hagan, and Brian Hoven of Great Falls; which is ironic because the Great Fall school district is one of those that’s been targeted for comprehensive sex education. The bill comes up for third reading today and we expect the margins to hold, then it’s off to the Senate.
While that victory was sweet, it was just the beginning. After the floor session, the House and Senate education committee convened and took executive action on four of our school choice bills. Those bills are modeled after programs that are working in other states and they’re designed to give struggling students options so that they stay in school. The first bill was up in Senate Ed and was our tax credit scholarship bill which allows corporations and individuals to deduct donations made to organizations that grant scholarships to allow kids to transfer from public to private schools. As a bonus, it also allows a deduction for donations targeted at public schools. We first introduced this bill four years ago and it’s been gaining momentum ever since. The next stop is the Senate floor where passage is anything but sure. But, what is for sure is that this and all school choice bills will be opposed by the teachers union every step of the way.
After the tax scholarship bill passed, I went down to the House education committee just in time to watch executive action on three more bills. The first was a simple $500 tax credit to offset private school tuition. It passed easily on a party line vote but not before every Democrat berated the bill.
The second bill was more interesting. It was a bill to allow a child with a disability who might not be receiving the help that they need in the public schools to take the money that normally would’ve been spent on them and going to the marketplace to find an option that works. The opponents argue that we have very good special ed programs in place in the public schools, so why would kids with disabilities need to go anywhere else? This seems logical but completely misses the point. It’s time to stop looking at the systems and the programs and begin looking at individual kids. If the system works perfectly for 9 out of 10 kids then that 10th child needs an alternative option.
The final bill of the day was perhaps the most controversial, the creation of public charter schools. Montana is one of only eight remaining states with no charter schools. They’ve been around for about 20 years, are among the top performing schools in the US, and best of all, if they don’t perform, they get shut down. The education lobby was in the room buttonholing legislators and urging them to vote no, but in the end, the bill passed 10 to 8 with all Republicans voting yes except for Ted Washburn of Bozeman who joined the Democrats in opposition. Now the focus shifts to the house and senate floors, and once again, we will need your help.