Published April 13, 2023

House Again Passes Private School Tuition Funds 

Written by
Lydia Hoverson
| The Dakotan
Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dis. 37, Dickinson, stands in favor of a bill that provides tuition aid for students attending private schools in North Dakota. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)
Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dis. 37, Dickinson, stands in favor of a bill that provides tuition aid for students attending private schools in North Dakota. (Photo: Lydia Hoverson/The Dakotan)

Bill Subject to Veto 


BISMARCK – The North Dakota State House has twice approved a bill providing students at private schools tuition aid. The second passage of the bill took place Thursday morning but lacked two thirds vote needed to override a possible veto from the governor. 

House Bill 1532 would provide funds to qualified private schools for the purpose of offsetting the cost for parents, no more than 30% of the per student rate which would be roughly $1,200 per student. The Senate amended the bill so only families under 500% of the federal poverty level would be eligible for the tuition funds, which is a family of four making $150,000 a year. The bill was also amended so that the state auditor shall audit the funds. The bill would take effect July 1, 2024. The Senate added a sunset date of June 30, 2025. 

“We do fund private schools,” said Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Dis. 30, Bismarck. “We’ve done that more than once, and the sky didn’t fall. This is $10 million. The K-12 budget is two billion dollars. This bill is going to save this state, in per pupil payments, in the neighborhood of $100 million or more, because they are taking those kids that we as a state do not have to pay.” 

“This feels a lot like your local park board taking some of the tax dollars they collect and putting it towards the private country club in that district,” said Rep. Scott Louser, R-Dis. 5, Minot. “And you may say, well not every community has a country club. Not every community has a private school. I’d suggest a red vote.” 

Rep. Zachary Ista, D-Dis. 43, Grand Forks, asked what message this would be sending to public school families and teachers. 

“When you look at some surveys that have been done, we see that these public-school educators are thinking about leaving the profession altogether,” said Ista. “That should concern us. We should ask, does this bill help or hurt our efforts to retain such schoolteachers? If we pass this bill, what they’re going to hear is we found $10 million extra to invest. It’s for a direct subsidy to a private school. their competitors in educating our children. I think that’s a little bit of a gut punch to our public-school educators.” 

Ista said he also believes it will set a precedent of public funds going to private operations. 

“This bill is about parental choice and their children, it is not about public versus private school,” said Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-Dis. 37, Dickinson. “We heard an argument about rural schools and how this body shouldn’t pass the bill merely because they don’t have non-public schools.” 

Steiner listed some non-public schools in rural areas near Rugby, Langdon, Valley City, Belcourt, Fort Yates, and Fordville. 

“I own property in several districts, and I can only vote for a school board in one of them,” said Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Dis 38, Minot. “That’s already a common thing in this state. The people that send their kids to private school, they’re paying their income tax to the state which helps with the state funding per pupil, and they pay for the property tax that helps pay for the school portion of their property tax. So, they’re paying on both sides. We’ve had bills that have tried to give a credit directly to the parents and those have failed.” 

Rep. Cynthia Schrieber-Beck, R-Dis. 25, Wahpeton, said she believes this bill is premature. 

“There’s no data, there’s no evidence,” said Schreiber-Beck. “We don’t know anything except we’re going to write a check. We need to do an intense study on, do we need charter schools, do we need other forms of education? That data needs to be known before we can just write a check. I privately give my own money to private schools. I like private schools, but that doesn’t say that we are ready to fund private schools.” 

The bill passed by a vote of 51 to 41 and will be sent to the governor for his signature or veto. 

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