In Idaho, Senate Republicans stood in the way of vouchers. On Monday, they rejected a bill that would have allowed private school families to claim public education funds.
The bill, filed by Sens. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, and Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, would have created education savings accounts, a voucher type of mechanism, that would allow families to collect $6,000 annually for private school or home-schooled expenses.
The sponsors touted the legislation as a way to “empower families” expanding school choice for all students, especially those low-income families who wouldn’t normally be able to afford private schools.
“This historic bill will expand choice for all students. It’ll ease capacity and cost concerns and protect current home-school and private school interests,” Nichols told the full Senate on Monday. “Most importantly, it will empower families.”
Most Senate Republicans opposed the bill because the legislation posed many uncertainties, including how much it would cost.
Idaho’s teacher union and groups representing school boards, administrators, and rural schools opposed the bill, stating they were concerned the voucher program would drain limited public school funds.
In addition, the lack of accountability with taxpayer money was an issue, since the bill said it would not grant a government agency authority over private schools.
“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.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has been pushing the same voucher scheme, making “school choice” an emergency item for Texas’ legislative session.
“What we need to do this session is to expand that program to provide every parent in the state of Texas with the ability to choose the education option that is best for their child,” Abbott said. “To be very clear about one thing, under the school choice program — all public schools will be fully funded for every student the same way they are now.”
But much like Idaho, those who oppose “school choice” are pushing back. Idaho’s deal-breakers are much the same as Texas, they both are in the bottom ten states of per-pupil funding, and both have funds allocated to them based on attendance, not enrollment.
A large outflux of students for private schools would drain public schools at a time when they are already struggling with a teacher exodus crisis and public safety emergency.
A recent analysis by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, a nonpartisan research group, estimated enrollment among private- and home-schoolers would be 6,600 the first year, climbing to 60,000 the second year. This would have cost Idaho 408 million dollars of taxpayer money. In addition, 66,600 students leaving public schools would have cost them around 557 million – Idaho’s per pupil funding is $8,376.
Let this be an example for lawmakers in the Texas Legislature.