News & Updates

A Perfect Educational Fit

Montana’s Public Schools do a great job for most students, but as every parent knows, children aren’t all the same. One likes to run, the other likes to sit in the corner with a book. One likes to play videogames while the other prefers football. And while most do very well in public schools, there are some who do not.

Unfortunately, nearly 15,000 students drop out of Montana schools every year. So what’s the solution when one of our wildly diverse youngsters isn’t thriving in their public school? Forty-two other states have implemented various forms of school choice. School choice refers to a broad range of policy proposals aimed at providing some diversity in the field of education. As great as Montana’s public schools are, it’s unrealistic to hold them to a standard where they have to be the perfect fit for every single child. Some children just need a different environment and school choice is about providing options.

January 24th – 30th  was National School Choice week. The time when parents, student, and policy makers from across the nation celebrate the concept of a perfect educational fit for each and every child. Here in Montana the past year saw some exciting progress on school choice. The legislature passed Senate Bill 410 which allows a tax credit for donations by private individuals to private scholarship funds that can pay for students to attend private schools. This is exactly what school choice is all about. If our kids are struggling is a standard public school, then privately funded scholarships can help them afford that work. Lawmakers said, “It’s working in other states, and it can work in Montana too.”

Unfortunately Governor Bullock’s Department of Revenue threw a monkey wrench in the works claiming tax credits were the same thing as government spending and arguing that the bill was an unconstitutional appropriation of public dollars to religious schools. They then passed rules barring any religious schools from participating, that’s over 95% of the private high schools in the state. Fortunately, this issue has been litigated all the way to the United States Supreme Court which rules tax credits are not appropriations, and therefor tax credit scholarships are perfectly constitutional. Law suits challenging the Montana Department of Revenues action have been filed in both state and federal court, and we anticipate a quick and decisive victory!

Another form of school choice is public charter schools – they are public schools typically emphasizing a particular discipline such as the arts, technology, science, or a particular trade. Charter schools have more freedom to innovate and they’re also held to a higher standard of accountability.

Another cutting edge idea is education savings accounts where 70-90% of the dollars traditionally used to educate a child are put into an account to be used at any accredited school of the family’s choice. Since we spend roughly twelve thousand dollars on average each year to educate a child, these dollars add up fast, and any money leftover can be spent on college tuition.

School choice has always been controversial when someone has a monopoly, competition looks scary. The end result though is that everyone improves; the public schools, the alternatives, and most of all our kids. Forty-two other states have school choice and last year, Montana became the 43rd. Join us as we seek to ensure that every child is allowed to find their perfect educational fit!

2015 in Review

For those who may not know, the primary goal of the Montana Family Foundation is to affect public policy in a positive way from a Judeo Christian perspective. We do it primarily through research, education, and our involvement in court cases and the legislative process. It’s our passion and we’ve been at it for nearly 15 years, long enough in fact to play a major role in the culture war that has defined much of the past two decades. With that in mind, I’ll take the next two broadcasts to look back at last year and forward to 2016. What did we accomplish? What battles did we lose? And what do we have to look forward to in the next 12 months?

Our main focus for 2015 was the 64th session of the Montana Legislature.  It was our chance to influence legislation, both good and bad, that will affect the lives of regular people for years to come. Top of our list are bill dealing with life, marriage, religious freedom, and school choice. We believe that the family is the basic unit of society and should be reinforced – not redefined, as is the goal of many on the left. Job one in any session is to kill the bad bills and as always there were plenty of them. Bills to redefine marriage and to add sexual orientation as a protected class under Montana Human Rights Law were two of the worst. These are the types of laws that have been used to foment religious persecution in other states. Happily, both went down in flames. Unfortunately marriage was redefined by the U.S. Supreme Court and we’ll be dealing with the fallout from that for years to come.

On the plus side we argued in favor of bills that would have protected religious freedom, created public charter schools, mandated that all health insurance companies offer at least one policy that doesn’t cover abortions, banned abortions by video conference (better known as skype abortions) and finally a bill that would have required the use of anesthesia for any fetal surgery including surgical abortion. Although most of these passed the House and Senate, they were vetoed by Governor Bullock.

In the end we did pass two great bills; one, to increase the penalties for assaulting a pregnant woman and another to allow tax credits for scholarships to private schools including private religious schools. In all it was a successful session.

In a republic such as ours – you never get everything you want, but we won more of them than we lost. Another big win was the decision by the Montana Supreme Court to allow parental consent for a minor to get an abortion to proceed to a full trial. Planned Parenthood’s Lawyers tried to kill the voter passed initiative using procedural gimmicks. But Attorney General Tim Fox and his team prevailed in the end. The Montana Family Foundation led the effort to pass the original law and we filed an amicus brief in the court case, 71% of Montanan’s felt this law was necessary and we’re looking for a victory as this case moves forward.

Another big win came on election night when those pushing a so called sexual identity non-discrimination ordinance or NDO, suffered a humiliating defeat in Billings. Of the five pro-NDO candidates who were running, four of them lost and the fifth race was extremely close. Any chance of an NDO passing is now dead in Billings for the foreseeable future.

The big takeaway for this past year was the fact that we can win as long as we stay engaged. And for the sake of our children and grandchildren we promise to stay in the battle.