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Rudy Takala's Columns

Virginia’s School Choice Policies Contrast with District of Columbia

Authored for  ALEC.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) last week released the 19th edition of its annual 
Report Card on American Education,  where it grades states’ education policy based on six areas: state academic standards, charter school laws, home-school regulations, private school choice programs, overall teacher quality and policies, and digital learning opportunities.

North Dakota received a “D” in the report, the worst of any state. Indiana received the best grade, a “B+.” Among North Dakota’s neighbors, South Dakota received a “D+,” compared to a “C+” for Minnesota. In the area of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, Indiana placed 4th, Minnesota 13th, North Dakota 38th, and South Dakota 49th.

Among the biggest reasons for North Dakota’s poor grade were its prohibition of charter schools and an “F” grade for its private school choice policies. The state could make enormous strides towards improving its education system by improving its policies in either area.

North Dakota offers no voucher program and no tax credit program for students to attend private schools. In contrast, Indiana offers a program for each. One is the School Scholarship Tax Credit, which allows individuals and corporations to claim a 50 percent tax credit for contributions to approved Scholarship Granting Organizations. Indiana allocates $7.5 million in tax credits for the program annually. The second is the Choice Scholarship program, enacted just in 2011, which provides scholarships for students in low-to-mid income families to attend private schools.

Additionally, North Dakota is one of just eight states not allowing charter schools. The others are Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia. Minnesota pioneered the introduction of charter schools in 1991. Today, Indiana offers one of the freest climates for charter schools in the nation. It does not place any limit of the charter schools that may operate in the state, and up to five different entities are permitted to authorize charter operation.

State spending on education has not suffered in recent years, though. The oil boom has been a catalyst for North Dakota’s economy and increased revenue for the state government. The legislature approved a record $2.1 billion for elementary and secondary education in 2013, partially thanks to revenue fueled by the boom. That represented a 300 percent increase over what the state spent in the 2002-03 school year, or $13,118 per pupil.

That amount is similar to the $13,464 spent in Minnesota, yet far below Indiana’s $11,583. Yet North Dakota lags far behind both states in academic achievement. North Dakotans should be asking why, and they should be encouraging their state legislators to enact better policies. The state has enough resources to give students better options than it is presently providing.

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