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Nick Archuleta: Vouchers violate letter, spirit of N.D. Constitution.

Nick Archuleta

“A high degree of intelligence, patriotism, integrity and morality on the part of every voter in a government by the people being necessary in order to ensure the continuance of that government and the prosperity and happiness of the people, the legislative assembly shall make provision for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools which shall be open to all children of the state of North Dakota and free from sectarian control.

“This legislative requirement shall be irrevocable without the consent of the United States and the people of North Dakota.”

— North Dakota Constitution, Article VIII, Section 1

“No money raised for the support of the public schools of the state shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”

— North Dakota Constitution, Article VIII, Section 5

BISMARCK — The framers of the North Dakota Constitution could not have been clearer in their belief in public education for our state. They realized that quality public education was to be the bedrock upon which North Dakota would build its future.

They sensed correctly that for North Dakota to prosper, all of its residents should have access to a free and inclusive public education.

It is equally clear that the framers of the state constitution intended that public monies be spent on public education.

It has become common for some in our statehouse to parrot the policy wish list of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC’s reach is very deep across the United States, and it attempts to influence public policy in a variety of areas, including education.

ALEC is funded entirely by corporate interests that do not care about the children in our schools or public education in North Dakota. ALEC’s only interest is in weakening public education so that it may be privatized. The surest way to weaken public education is to transfer public monies from public schools and use them to fund private schools.

Do not misunderstand me. Even though I represent public school teachers and public employees, I fully respect the fact that for a variety of reasons that are none of my business, people choose to send their children to a private, nonpublic school.

I just believe, as the framers of the North Dakota Constitution believed, that public money should not be spent to support North Dakota’s 49 nonpublic schools, 42 of which have religious affiliation.

I am against discrimination, and I believe that government — state, local and federal — should not finance any organization that practices discrimination. But that is exactly what many nonpublic schools do. They frequently discriminate on the basis of religion, special needs and due process for students and teachers.

Most nonpublic schools do not have either the financial or professional resources to educate special needs children. The vast majority of these students, then, attend public schools, which welcome them as the schools do all students.

I also believe in transparency in the operations of North Dakota’s government and political subdivisions. Your local school board is elected by the people, holds meetings attended by stakeholders and is accountable to the public, whose money finances their schools’ operations. That is not the case in many nonpublic school systems.

The transfer of public money for private education through vouchers does not enhance student achievement. In fact, when test scores are weighted to reflect student socioeconomic status, disability and race, public school students actually outperform private school students nationally.

Parents and stakeholders know and understand the importance of keeping public funds in public schools and have said so repeatedly. So did a solid majority in the House when those members defeated House Bill 1466 last session by a 63-31 vote.

When this misguided ALEC legislation comes up again in the next session — and it will — I hope that all North Dakotans will stand again to send the message that we believe that public funds should be used to fund only public schools.

In closing, I want to say public education is an investment in ourselves and our future. In North Dakota, educators in our public schools endeavor to educate every child that walks, rolls or is carried through our schoolhouse doors. Public support of public schools helps us to keep our promise to North Dakota’s future.

Nick Archuleta is president of North Dakota United, the union that represents North Dakota’s K-12 teachers as well as city, county, state and higher education employees.