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North Dakota advances bill to help with private school costs


Two weeks after the North Dakota House failed to pass a measure that would have provided free lunch to low-income students in public schools, the state Senate has passed a bill that would give qualifying parents private school tuition assistance.

Under the bill passed Tuesday, $10 million in state funds would be allocated to parents for private school tuition assistance. A family of four with a household income of $150,000 or less would qualify for assistance.

Parents would receive around $3,200 for each child sent to a private school of their choice, said Republican Sen. Donald Schaible, of Mott, while carrying the bill on the Senate floor.

Supporters of the proposal said they wanted to help parents make choices to connect their kids with schools that meet their unique needs — regardless of where they live, their financial status or special needs status. Opponents criticized it, saying public dollars should be used for public schools, and rural children would be at a disadvantage.

“The city in which I live is 50 miles from the nearest private school,” said Republican Sen. David Rust, of Tioga. “There may be choice for those in a large city, but there really is no choice for those in a rural area, as there is no access.”

The bill's passage comes after House lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have allocated $6 million in state funds to children in public schools for meal assistance.

The failed bill would have given kids free lunch if their household income was at or below 200% of the federal poverty line — or $60,000 or less for a family of four.

Senate lawmakers passed the private school bill with a 27-19 vote Tuesday. The bill still needs final approval from the House and governor to become law.

School choice legislation has become more popular in recent years. At least a dozen other states have considered similar legislation in what has emerged as a landmark year for school choice battles. Those states include Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas.


Trisha Ahmed is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Trisha Ahmed on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15.