May 4, 2021

Missoulian Editorial Board: Montana is set to drain public dollars for private education

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In a new editorial, the editorial board of the Missoulian speaks out against new legislation designed to redirect public tax dollars to private schools. Having won the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue lawsuit which broke down the barrier between church and state, school privatizers are now prepared to push the envelope further.

One bill rooted in a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision appears aimed at picking another legal fight, even as it blatantly benefits only a select few wealthy Montanans. It took a $150 tax credit for donations to school scholarships, a bone of contention as recently as year, and inflated it to a shocking $200,000.

The sheer size of the credit makes its intent unmistakable: to take public tax dollars from all Montanans, and use them to financially support private schools.

House Bill 279, carried by Rep. Seth Berglee, applies to both private and public school scholarships, but will clearly benefit private schools at the expense of public dollars. It is expected to drain $4.6 million from the general fund by Fiscal Year 2025. In other words, this bill will cost Montana taxpayers an estimated $4.6 million. And this money coming from public pockets will fund the educational choices made by private individuals. Individuals who are most certainly already wealthier than the average Montanan.

Among those signing on to an amicus brief in Espinoza v. Department of Revenue were then-U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, now Governor Gianforte. Gianforte was at one time the wealthiest member of the U.S. House and has an estimated net worth of more than $189 million, according to the most recent financial disclosures on file. He and his family, through the Gianforte Family Foundation, are also big-time, longtime supporters of a private religious school in Bozeman called the Petra Academy. Gianforte served as Petra’s chair for more than 10 years, and his foundation has donated millions to the Christian K-12 school.

Read the full editorial here.

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