Ahead of session, coalition outlining school choice legislation

| January 28, 2016 | 0 Comments

A year ago January, 400 students applied for 200 positions in the ninth grade class at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. Of the 400, however, only 80 families had the financial means to pay the school’s tuition.

DeLaSalle was able to offer financial aid to another 120 students to fill the class, but Barry Lieske, president of the Christian Brothers school, said the numbers are telling.

“Access to our Catholic schools is in high demand from low- and middle-income families,” Lieske said. Unfortunately, he added, “parents are making the decision, ‘We can’t afford the tuition.’?”

Lieske and leaders from Catholic and private schools in the Twin Cities area attended a Jan. 26 meeting at St. Pascal Baylon School in St. Paul to learn about a relatively new coalition and its efforts to win legislative approval for several school choice initiatives.

OAK, Opportunity for All Kids, established in January 2015, is an organization focused on building grassroots support and advocating for parental choice in education for all families. The collaboration includes the Minnesota Independent School Forum, Minnesota Catholic Conference, the Minnesota district schools of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Institute for Justice and the Center for the American Experiment.

Multiple proposals

Chas Anderson, OAK executive director, explained rationale and strategies the group is using to persuade Minnesota legislators about the need for additional school choice options for parents and students.

She pointed to studies that showed the addition of school choice options increased achievement in public schools, and to progress being made on several proposals in various stages of the Minnesota legislative process.

The proposals include:

• Legislation to create education savings accounts for parents of children with disabilities.

• Legislation passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives to expand Minnesota’s Education Tax Credit to cover Minnesota families and include private school tuition as an allowable expense.

• A proposal to allow individuals and businesses to receive a tax credit for donating to charitable entities that award kindergarten to grade 12 scholarships to children from income-qualifying families.

Tim Benz, Minnesota Independent School Forum president, encouraged school leaders to actively support OAK’s efforts and to enlist the support of parents in contacting legislators to support the initiatives during the upcoming legislative session, which convenes March 8.

The meeting, during National School Choice Week, left Lieske guardedly optimistic.

The DeLaSalle president said he’s seen some of the same proposals pitched for the past several decades, “but the needle doesn’t move.”

“What’s impressive for me is the consortium idea,” Lieske told The Catholic Spirit. “We’ve had a lobby for Catholic schools before, but OAK is going to have more weight behind it. It’s going to require a greater focus on our shared interests, or we’re not going to get the attention of legislators.”

What’s also promising, he said, is the thoroughness of OAK’s approach, and that it understands the state’s legislative landscape.

“The ecumenical coalition is better positioned to promote school choice legislation,” Lieske said.

“If we’re serious about serving the poor,” he added, “we’re going to have to work together to pass proposals like we’ve heard today.”

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Category: Local News