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Idaho Senate says no to education savings accounts

Courtesy State of Idaho

A bill to allow parents to pull money from their students' public school funding for private and home schooling failed Monday on a 23-12 vote.

“This ESA bill creates education savings accounts for kindergarten-through-twelfth grade children who are eligible to enroll in a K-through-12 public school, which empowers parents to choose the education options that best suit their child’s individual educational needs,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Tammy Nichols (R-Canyon County). “It puts parents fully in charge of their children’s education and provides school choice for families, especially those who don’t have the means to afford private school or other educational options.”

Her bill would have allowed parents to move $5,950 of the roughly $8,000 assigned to their children by the state every year into an individual account. Parents could spend that for education-related expenses, whether it be private school tuition, home school costs or something else.

In addition, says the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Brian Lenney (R-Nampa), it gives parents of children who aren’t in public school a financial break.

“This bill ends the practice of double charging non-public school families for their child’s education,” he said. “There’s no justification to discriminate against non-public school children and families for their child’s education by withholding financial support they would otherwise receive if they attended a public school.”

Those public schools, argue some of the supporters, are vastly underperforming when you consider how much money is spent to operate them.

“In the state of Idaho, the best we’re doing in is reading and that’s at 69% proficiency,” said Sen. Chris Trakel (R-Caldwell). “When it comes to English, Idaho is at 55% proficiency. When it comes to math, Idaho’s at 42% proficiency. Everybody talks about accountability, but where’s the accountability for the public schools? We just throw more money at the system.”

Speaking of accountability, critics of the educational savings account bill argued it provides no accountability, either in terms of how the money was spent or how that money corresponds to student academic performance.

“It’s actually against my conservative Republican perspective to hand this money out with no accountability that these precious tax dollars are being used wisely,” said Sen. Dave Lent (R-Idaho Falls). “What happens if we say, it’s good for them. Why not public education? Why don’t we cut all of the accountability strings with public education? How would that go over?”

Many who voted no said they agree with the need for more choice in education, including Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise).

“Some will try to convince you that this bill is about school choice. It’s not about school choice,” Winder said.

“Idaho has the best school choice legislation in the country. We have charter schools. We have public schools. We’re obligated by our constitution to have a thorough and free public education system. We also have home schools. We have magnet schools. We have all sorts of choices for people. So it isn’t a matter about choice. This is a funding bill. Don’t be deceived,” he said.

Some said they might have voted for a less ambitious, more targeted proposal and suggested the bill be amended and brought back for another vote. Whether that will happen isn’t clear.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.