Lloyd Omdahl: Vouchers steal public school funds

Local education is not adequately funded so diverting limited available funds would deprive local school districts of critical funds.

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Lloyd Omdahl

A bill introduced in the Legislature by Rep. Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks, would pave the way to diverting money away from public schools and give it to a variety of nonpublic education institutions through a voucher system.

Under the voucher system, the state would give public money to individuals who wanted to send their kids to private institutions.

If public education in North Dakota was adequately funded, the suggestion wouldn’t be so alarming. But local education is not adequately funded so diverting limited available funds would deprive local school districts of critical funds.

What’s the complaint? Surely, sponsors of “vouchers” must have criticisms of our locally-administered school system run by community citizens. Is there something in the curriculum that is being taught incorrectly? Are schools staffed by teachers who are pushing their own agendas? Is there not enough security to keep children safe? Do we want to keep our children away from the riff-raff public schools must accept?

The vouchers create a constitutional problem because they will be used to subsidize religious education and violate the separation of church and state emblazoned in our culture by the Founding Fathers James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.


Through political compromises, states have ignored underfunding of public education and have a lower commitment to the principle of separation of church and state. At present, states have created 39 private choice programs, 15 voucher programs and 18 scholarships tax credit plans. Unless the defenders of public education are vigilant – especially during legislative sessions – more and more public money will finance private ideologies.

It is known that there are difficult issues being processed in schools. There are political objections to teaching the “critical race theory” (CRT) because it convicts us for our 400-year oppression of African-Americans.

I’ve just finished a careful review of the 400 years of slavery and we have oppressed African-Americans so persistently that it has become ingrained in our institutions. Outlawing the teaching of CRT is bigotry.

Accepting LGBTs as persons has been stressful for those who feel that the sexual orientation of others is their business. But that being a religious issue, it is the business of only the person and his/her God.

Evolution continues to be a controversial issue that disturbs Christians because it leaves God outside of the creation process. A legitimate concern that requires a compelling argument by parents against the theory. Besides, science can only discover what God has done so Christians need not worry.

If our policy making system was operating anywhere near normal, the proposal could be discussed rationally and constructively. Unfortunately, education is now caught up in the polarization that is dividing the country.

The division is a breakaway minority that has staked out an ideology that is beyond that of the regular conservatism. Many of them are involved directly or indirectly with Christian Nationalism, an ideology that proposes to rewrite American history to justify a radical departure from traditional democratic norms.

Various spokespersons for the Christian right have been battering public schools for decades, hoping to erode public confidence and create an environment that will be receptive to privatization of the school system.


Textbook and curriculum resources are big in the publishing business with right-wing ideologues designing material that reinforce unfounded biases. Private schools are teaching this material.

As early as 1979, Jerry Falwell said that he hoped he would see the day public schools would be taken over by churches with Christians running them.

In this free country, parents have the right to compartmentalize the minds of their children as they choose. However, public funds should not be used to finance private education that may not be in the common good.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former state lieutenant governor and professor at UND.

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