A School Choice Study could be coming to North Dakota

Published: Feb. 5, 2019 at 6:07 PM CST
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"Reading, writing, arithmetic – when you don't know how to do that and you go every day for twelve, thirteen years – and fail every day," says Kari Bucholz, the founder of Haley's Hope. "His personality started to change."

"Reaching out to the community, the education community, for help. And then really, just as a young parent, putting your heart and soul into having them understand what is going on and trying to fix that," she continues. "The desperation in myself, trying to find someone to help. Find somebody that could not only help me be a better parent, but find that key to why this intelligent young boy couldn't read or write."

Bucholz says it took years of struggling before her son was diagnosed with dyslexia. Even then, the struggle wasn't over.

"I did find help for him, but it involved us going to St. Paul for every week for six months straight so he could get the tutoring he needed because we didn't have it here," she says. "But as soon as we started doing that, I started to get that little boy back. That's all I wanted. That's all he wanted – just to be like all of the other kids in his class."

Bucholz says local schools weren't able to help her son, but private institutions were. That's when she opened 'Haley's Hope' - to help other children with dyslexia - and says that's why she supports house bill 1464.

"A lot of our kids that come here are on IEPs, are on 504s – since they've been in pre-school, kindergarten – and are still reading at second grade levels when they're sophomores or juniors in high school," Bucholz says. "We have students coming from 62 different towns across the state. How do those families in small towns get help if they don't have access to us or a service like us?"

"Dyslexia is experienced by one in five students. And there are ways to treat it, or ways to remediate it," says Representative Michelle Strinden, a republican from District 41. "And it's not provided to within public schools. It's not available to students with dyslexia within the public school curriculum."

Strinden's bill asks the state to study school choice programs and educational savings accounts.

"There's therapies out there for people who can have access to them or have the ability to pay for those services," Strinden says. "An education savings account is a way to address this issue. A portion of their tuition dollars could be used for services that are provided outside of the public school."

But educators argue against the idea, saying research shows those programs aren't effective.

"There's no evidence suggesting that school vouchers being used for private schools or for charter schools that charge tuition actually make any measurable difference in either school performance or students' academic performance," says David Kupferman, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Social Foundations of Education at MSUM.

If communities want stronger outcomes for students, Kupferman says more money should be put into public schools - not taken out.

"When has a business ever done better by having fewer resources?" Kupferman asks. "What hasn't been tried is putting all of these resources, and all of this energy and effort and time into public institutions – specifically, public school."

Bucholz says she would be happy to step aside, when the schools are able to step up.

"If Haley's Hope could go away and I knew the schools were taking care of it – that's my ultimate goal. But I know it's going to take a long time to get there," she says.

The bill has passed the North Dakota House and now awaits approval from the Senate.