Now that high court has spoken, it’s time for school vouchers in Minnesota

The US Supreme Court’s June ruling on school vouchers, Carson v. Makin, is a step in the right direction and removes yet another possible hurdle to making vouchers legal in Minnesota. In that ruling, the Supreme Court said parents in Maine could not be denied the ability to partake in the state’s tuition assistance program if their children attend private schools.

School vouchers come in different forms. The most common is the traditional voucher, which allows parents to use education funding to apply to private school tuition. There are also Education Savings Accounts (ESA), which set aside money that parents can then use to pay for their children to attend a private school. And finally, there are tax credit scholarships, which let corporations or individuals donate money otherwise earmarked for taxes to create scholarships at private schools.

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All three are very strong options to allow parents and their children to choose what school they want to attend regardless of whether it’s public or private. A bill in the Minnesota Legislature this past session would have established ESAs. I testified before the House Education Committee a few years ago in support of a bill that would have created tax credit scholarships. Any form of voucher should be based on financial needs and represents an opportunity to expand choice when it comes to access to quality, results-driven education in Minnesota.

Ascension Catholic School in north Minneapolis, where I am principal, has been part of the neighborhood since 1897. Since 2013, the vast majority of the school’s graduates have gone on to graduate from high school.

Benito Matias

Ascension’s 10-year proficiency average for eighth-grade scholars is 70% for math and 66% for reading. That’s at least two and, in some cases, more than three times higher than nearby public and charter schools. Our student body is 93% students of color (Latino, African immigrant and African American); 17% are English Language Learners and 68% are eligible for free or reduced lunch. Most of our scholars come from north Minneapolis.

No scholar is turned away from attending Ascension for financial reasons thanks to our generous supporters. However, the same is not necessarily true at all Catholic and other religious schools. Just think what a voucher program in Minnesota could do to enhance a family’s ability to have unrestricted choices for their children’s education.

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Vouchers, contrary to the opinions of those who oppose them, will not destroy public education. That’s evident in states where vouchers are already used. An empirical study done by the Friedman Foundation found vouchers created a win-win for public and private schools. A strong public school system is vital to society’s growth.

Minnesota has a great opportunity to create an even stronger education system statewide with school vouchers. The US Supreme Court has spoken loudly in support of vouchers. Let’s hope the Minnesota Legislature does the same during its next session and passes legislation to make some form of vouchers legal in Minnesota.

Benito Matias is principal at Ascension Catholic School, which is one of four Minneapolis and St. Paul schools in Ascension Catholic Academy.

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