Yesterday was a great day in Montana–that is, according to a press release sent out by the president of the Montana Teacher’s Union in response to Governor Bullock signing one bill and vetoing another. The bill that he signed was a large increase in school spending sponsored by Senator Llew Jones of Conrad. The bill the governor vetoed was a private sector solution to Montana’s massive dropout problem. Every year, more than 2,000 students drop out of public school for whatever reason: personal problems, bullying, boredom, learning disabilities, or because they have fallen so far behind they have no hope of catching up.
Senate Bill 81 would have allowed a tax break for people and businesses who donate money to help these kids find a school that fits – even if that school happens to be a private religious school. This is about kids and their parents working together to find a solution before that child drops out. It makes perfect sense and it saves taxpayers millions of dollars in the process. Other states are doing it; in fact, so many states are that Montana is one of only eight remaining states with no school choice.
School Choice in Montana currently only exists for those who can afford it. Senate Bill 81 would have changed that. Now we have to wait another two years to try again. In the meantime, 4,000 more kids will drop out of school and be relegated to lives of increased crime, higher dependency on welfare, poor health, and lower paying jobs. All because the governor and his allies have determined that there will be no School Choice in Montana, no tax credits for tuition, no charter schools, no help for kids with disabilities. But at least if they get their way, we will have comprehensive sex education beginning in kindergarten.
I apologize for sounding jaded – but it’s frustrating to work so hard on a bill only to have it fall victim to politics and political retribution. And I’m not just talking about my friends on the Democrat side of the aisle; in some ways our biggest hurdle was the small groups of liberal Republicans in the House and Senate who joined with Democrats to oppose our bills. Republicans who were supposed to believe in the power of the free-market, individual freedom and responsibility, and the power of competition to drive quality and provide the best product for the largest number of people at the lowest price.
This is the positive affect School Choice is having on education in other states. At some point, we will have it here in Montana as well, but not yet. The teacher’s union president used to brag that he could kill any School Choice bill in its first hearing. Those days are long gone—this year the Montana Family Foundation, along with our partners at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Montana Policy Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the Montana Catholic Conference, were able to push this issue through both houses of the legislature and all the way to the Governor’s desk–only to have him veto it!
Next session’s goal is to get him to sign a School Choice bill, and we believe that he will. Our job is to educate the public to the point that public pressure trumps the power of the unions. And, to the point that we begin focusing on the kids rather than on the institutions themselves. It’s a hard, uphill battle but in the end, it will be worth it.The day will come when every child and their parents can choose – from a broad array of options – the school that fits them best. And when it does, it will be our turn to say this is a great day for Montana!
Thank you for your continued support of our efforts to bring School Choice to Montana–together we can make a difference for kids!