Viewpoint: Parent choice matters in schools

As the principal of St. Michael’s Catholic School in Grand Forks, I am compelled to bring clarity and correction to the letter to the editor titled “Voucher plan would hurt public schools."

Sara Dudley
Contributed / Sara Dudley

As the principal of St. Michael’s Catholic School in Grand Forks, I am compelled to bring clarity and correction to the letter to the editor titled “Voucher plan would hurt public schools” written by Melissa Buchhop and Amber Haskell on behalf of the Grand Forks Education Association.

With my own educational journey through public education and the start of my professional career in public school, I hold a great appreciation for public school educators and how they serve the community. However, Ms. Buchhop and Ms. Halskell’s letter was misleading as to the intentions and accountability of non-public schools in our community without ever reaching out to non-public schools for clarity or information.

Non-public schools receive equitable services and resources through federal taxpayer dollars that are audited and managed by the Department of Public Instruction. All equitable services or funds have strict and clear guidelines for what non-public schools can utilize the funds for. We are held to a clear and high standard of usage. To say "In the private system, those same choices are made by unaccountable administrators, without input from taxpayers" is inaccurate and misleading. It is through these standards that administrators like myself are held accountable along with documented and consistent consultation with the public schools. Non-public schools receive Department of Instruction approval using the same assurances as public schools.

Although it is unclear exactly what the legislation would look like as shared by Rep. Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks, every new equitable service program provided to non-public schools has always come with strict guidelines and measures for accountability for the non-public school. We are happy to abide by those guidelines when it allows our schools to provide more opportunities for our students.

The argument that non-public schools are not monitored or held accountable is flawed. Non-public schools are not only held accountable by the checks and balances through DPI and the government, but also by the direct tax payers who would be choosing where to send their children. We are required to have DPI approved curriculums that are in alignment with the given standards of DPI and the legislature. An example of that would be the Science of Reading professional development required by all K-3 educators. We are required to complete assurances through DPI along with being accredited by the same accrediting institution as the public schools. The truth is that elected officials in our legislature that represent the taxpayer will be listening to their constituents and having a vote.


It is true that some non-public schools do not have all the services that public schools have, especially when it comes to students with special needs, yet we strive to meet the needs of our community if they choose to attend our school. At this time, we provide school counselors, paraprofessionals, small class size, enrichment, intervention, Title I services, licensed teachers, and more. Much more than Ms. Buchhop and Ms. Haskell assume through their own bias and misinformed opinions. With additional resources through school choice options, it would be possible to educate each child and provide the services.

The reality is that, yes, if the school choice option becomes available, public schools will find parents pulling their students out for non-public schools, but it should not only prompt you to fight for keeping those dollars, but also ask the question "why." As educators, we partner with parents as the first teachers of their children and should welcome their voice in their child’s educational path.

It is about more than just the bottom line. We will continue to serve the Grand Forks community with or without the school choice legislation. We will continue to provide exceptional academics with a focus on our mission of faith-filled opportunities and service. We will continue to see parents as the first teachers and always partner with them with transparency, truth, and accountability to our students, parents, and community.

As always, I strive to partner and collaborate with the public schools in our community, yet as educators we must work towards educating ourselves about the realities of our schools and not rely on uniformed bias or opinions. We must educate ourselves in the same spirit that we ask our students to learn; by asking questions, doing our research, and being critical thinkers informed by facts.

Sara Dudley is principal of St. Michael’s Catholic School, Grand Forks.

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