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Idaho House committee says no to public money for private school scholarships

Courtesy of the state of Idaho

The bill fails by one vote.

An Idaho House committee voted to hold back a bill that would have allowed parents to access public money for private school expenses.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt [R-Eagle] bill would allow parents to apply to the state to create educational savings accounts. Those accounts would be filled with a student’s annual individual per-pupil money, nearly $6,000, allocated by the state. The money could pay for private school tuition or other educational expenses.

“This is for students that are not thriving in their current learning environment," she said.

She and her co-sponsor, Rep. Dorothy Moon [R-Stanley], say the bill would give children for whom public school is not working another educational option. Given the struggles that many children have had during the pandemic, it's a particularly timely bill, they argue.

DeMordaunt estimates that one-percent of eligible students would take advantage of this, costing the state nearly $13 million each year.

Opponents, such as Rep. Steve Berch [D-Boise], believe that estimate is far too low, and that the measure would lead to the state spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to send children to private schools.

“If it becomes law, this becomes the gateway for those who hope to create the opportunity of privatizing education," he said.

Opponents believe the bill would violate the Idaho constitution by allowing state money to be used to educate children who attend institutions that teach religion. They argue a measure like that should be approved through a state constitutional amendment that would require two-thirds votes in both chambers, plus a majority vote of the people, rather than through legislation that needs only basic majorities in both the House and Senate.

The House Education Committee heard more than 90 minutes of public testimony on the bill Monday. On Tuesday, members debated it for another 90 minutes before voting eight-to-seven not to advance it to the House floor.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.