Testimony on House Bill 1320 (Tuition Reimbursement)

To: House Education Committee
From: Christopher Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: HB 1320 (Tuition Reimbursement)
Date: January 24, 2001

The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports House Bill 1320.

Our position stems from a belief in two fundamental principles. The first is that every parent has a fundamental right to choose the means of education for their children. The second principle is that every child has a right to an education and that the state has an obligation to support that education. This principle is well established in our nation's history and is a key to our nation's success and the preservation of democracy. This obligation is what is meant by public education.

Our society generally accepts these two principles. However, for various historical reasons, some of them rooted in anti-Catholic sentiments, our present system treats them as mutually exclusive. In our present system, if parents exercise their right to choose they can be denied the right to government assisted education. If government assists the education, the parents must lose their right to choose. The mere fact that some parents choose a government school and their child gets a state-supported education does not negate the fact that the system does not recognize both rights as coexistent.

It is time to remedy this injustice. We are not here because we want assistance for Catholic schools. HB 1320 does not provide assistance to Catholic or any other nonpublic schools. We are not here because we believe the government school system has failed. The North Dakota Catholic Conference supports the public school system and insists that the state fully support that system. We are here because every child deserves an education and because the state has a duty to assist in that education, even if the parent happens to exercise their right to choose a nonpublic school.

We are here for parents, like those who send their children to St. Ann’s in Belcourt. Many parents of students at St. Ann’s make great sacrifices to send their children to that school. Indeed, so many cannot afford the $400 yearly tuition that
the school only requests, not mandates, tuition. Otherwise, 30% to 40% of the students would not be able to attend. Yet keeping this school open is very difficult. With so little tuition coming into the school, it is difficult to hire and retain certified teachers.

When society helps relieve the burden placed on families that choose a nongovernment school, it accomplishes several things. First, society affirms their belief in public education. Public education is society's support, financially and otherwise, of a child's education. We do this because we recognize that a basic education is essential to a person's development and dignity, the support of families, the preservation of communities, and the maintenance of a democracy.

Second, when society alleviates the burden it empowers parents. Allowing parents to choose the means of education for their children and providing the concrete conditions for exercising that choice, places parents in their rightful position as the primary educators of their children. If you want better parents, you treat parenting, including parental choice in education, with respect. Our present system, however, penalizes parents for their choice if it involves a nongovernment school.

Third, when society relieves some of the burden of choosing a nonpublic school, it helps achieve justice. When the parents of children who are not in government schools pay twice for education - once to the government system and again for the education of their own children, but receive nothing from the state in return, justice is denied. When poor families do not receive the same opportunities to choose the school of their choice available to affluent families, justice is denied. When parents are penalized for choosing a school that best reflects their philosophical convictions, justice is denied.

House Bill 1320 does not take money away from the public schools. The argument that tuition reimbursement will financially hurt public schools rests on a false premise. Tuition reimbursements do not take money away from public schools any more than roads, medicaid, the public employees' retirement system, lignite energy tax breaks, or any other public program takes money away from public schools. The state can provide relief to parents without affecting funding for government schools.

The time has come for justice and relief for parents. We urge a Do Pass on HB 1320.