The Idaho House of Representatives approved its first private school choice proposal 35-33, only to have a Senate committee vote it down 7-2 in April.
The proposal would have allowed individuals and corporations to receive a tax credit for donations to nonprofits that grant K-12 scholarships. Students whose families make up to $63,900 for a family of four would have been eligible for the scholarships.
Although the bill fell short of passage, the votes represent progress, said Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
“Last year, the bill only advanced to the House floor,” he said. “This year we got a positive floor vote and the measure made it to the Senate. As people begin to realize the importance of this legislation and what it means for student achievement and advancement, they begin to embrace the idea.”
Idaho’s constitution bans sending public money to religious institutions, but courts including the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled education tax credits are private, not public money.
Choice ‘Benefits All’
Hoffman says the tax-credit plan was designed to “open the full spectrum of education choice to Idaho students.” Even though Idaho has traditional public schools, charter schools, online schools, home schools, and private schools, “the last of those options is out of reach for many kids, although their parents pay for the former via taxes,” he said.
“School choice benefits all Idaho schoolchildren and their parents,” said bill sponsor Sen. Bob Nonini (R-Couer d’Alene), and increasing educational choices “raises the bar for all schools.”
Nonini told the Senate committee the tax credit, capped at $10 million in his bill, would mean $5.8 million in savings to taxpayers each year and shift approximately 2,600 children from public to private schools.
Spokesmen for Idaho public schools said they opposed the bill because it would reduce their access to money and students.
“Kids aren’t widgets,” Hoffman said. “They each need different educational options, and [lawmakers] should put those options ahead of maintaining the ‘system.'”
Nonini says he isn’t finished pursuing private school choice.
“I plan to continue the push for tax credits for donations to organizations that grant scholarships to qualifying families,” he said. “The legislation made substantial progress this year. I will[ visit] with senators from the tax committee that did not support the legislation, to attempt to address their concerns.”
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