School choice in Montana helps public schools too

November 18, 2015 | By WENCONG FA

As my colleague Ethan Blevins discussed yesterday, we filed written testimony urging the Montana Department of Revenue to reconsider proposed regulations that would severely limit school choice in Montana.

In May, the Montana legislature enacted the state’s first school choice program, which allowed students to use scholarships funded by private donations at private schools of their choice. The Department of Revenue, however, proposed regulations that would prevent students from using these scholarships at any religious school. I was in Montana earlier this month, and told the Department that if it did not withdraw its unconstitutional regulations, it would have to answer for them in court.

My appearance didn’t go unnoticed. One state senator recently authored a guest column claiming that Montana’s school choice program hurts public schools, and that no one knows who is behind the school choice movement (though she speculates that it could be me).

The senator is wrong. The Montana school choice program is plainly designed to support both private and public schools. Tax credits are not just available for donations toward a student’s education at a private school, but also for contributions toward innovative new programs at public schools.

More broadly, competition in education, as it does elsewhere, leads to better outcomes and lower costs for everyone. Research shows that public schools do not retreat from the challenge when faced with competition from private schools, but find ways to use their resources more efficiently. Competition thus leads to better academic outcomes for all students — in private and public schools — which in turn results in economic gains for all Montana residents down the road.

These are the reasons why conservatives and liberals support school choice. And they are the reasons why Montana is the 43rd state to implement a school choice program, not the first. We hope the Department reconsiders its regulations, and reinvigorates choice in Montana.