Montana Catholic Schools Weekly

January 4, 2016

School Choice Update

Montana has become an epicenter over the debate for school choice and educational reform. In the last legislative session, SB 410 was passed which allowed for Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs) to form. (see here for the actual bill). SSOs could support scholarships to non-public schools as well as supporting public schools. SSOs were authorized to accept donations as well as donations of tax refunds up to $150 per person.

The Montana Department of Revenue has decided that tax credits should not be used to support the faith-based private schools, citing the Blaine Amendment which supports the separation of church and state. (see here for an explanation of the Blaine Amendment; see here for the Department’s opinion; see here for the DOR's justification; see here for an analysis). The Montana Solicitor General, however, offered his opinion that the Department of Revenue decision was indefensible. (see here for his opinion).

Two separate non-profits have sued the State of Montana hoping first to overturn this decision and perhaps to overturn the Blaine Amendments themselves. The Institute for Justice was first to sue. (see here for the text of their lawsuit). The Pacific Legal Institute has also sued. Including quotes from yours truly, the Cardinal Newman Society has published a great summary of the issues and implications for school choice.

The issue of school choice and Blaine Amendments perhaps obscures the important point—the purpose of SSOs is to provide another option for parents in Montana. By promoting competition, school choice should not only bring better opportunities for families, but will also improve all schools. School choice is not antithetical to public education. As Dr. John Schoenig of Notre Dame argues, school choice is part of a 3-sector reform effort. “The aim of these reform efforts is to create a vibrant educational ecosystem in a given region, through which all three of the traditional education sectors (district public schools, charter schools, and private schools) are strengthened.” (see article here)

Father Patrick Beretta of Butte offers a personal reflection on school choice in his December piece, "What's so Threatening About Private Schools?"

Dr. Tim Uhl, Superintendent

The Week Ahead

Monday: Great Falls meetings

Tuesday: Kalispell meetings

Wednesday: office (Helena)

Thursday: office (Helena)

Friday: office (Helena)

This week: 685 miles

2015-16: 13,313 driving miles; 5,184 air miles

Montana Catholic Schools

Serving 3800+ students in 24 Catholic schools across the Treasure State

For Principals

  1. High School meeting at 5 pm on Sunday, January 17th at Billings Central. Topics will include the new E3 protocol and OPI issues. Dinner will be provided.
  2. Virtual principal meetings are scheduled for January 26th at 9 am or 1 pm. Topics will include the elementary religion standards and faith formation programs.
  3. For the March regional meetings--March 15th at Miles City; March 17th at Hays; March 24th at Butte. All meetings will start at 10 am and lunch will be provided by the hosts.

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