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Protecting Idaho’s Future

Protecting Idaho’s Future

In Idaho Falls, we see firsthand the results of Idaho’s commitment to school choice. In addition to our incredible public school districts, students and parents in Bonneville County can choose from three magnet schools, five private schools, and seven charter schools. Homeschooling also remains an excellent option for many families. But no matter the decision, the fact stays the same. Idaho supports and encourages a thriving environment for school choice.

 

We do so alongside our constitutional obligation “to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Each legislative session, we weigh this duty carefully and do our best to identify and meet the needs of our public schools.

 

But in recent years, we’ve heard frequently from a handful of folks that want us to send your tax dollars to fund private education. Some of the loudest voices come from national organizations promoting a national agenda. It represents a significant threat to Idaho’s schools and undermines our ability to ensure the transparent and accountable use of your tax dollars.

 

Previously, the ideas ranged from school vouchers to education savings accounts. Thankfully, most legislators recognized the threat and resisted these shortsighted proposals.

 

Today, we’re facing a new idea that attempts to undercut what Idaho’s Constitution asks us to do. Supporters of publicly funded private education now want a refundable tax credit with a budget of $50 million/year.

 

  • The first $40 million would go to families on a first-come, first-served basis at a rate of $5,000/student with no cap on the total a family receives.

  • The remaining $10 million would go to families who qualify for the earned income tax credit as grants of up to $5,000 for one year.

  • In the following years, these families could then go into the tax credit program.

 

The numbers don’t add up.

 

The average tax bill for an Idaho family equals $1,625/year. But the refundable tax credit would send $5,000 back per student. It amounts to a redistribution of wealth with few strings attached. Families qualify if they have students enrolled in a secular or religious private school or participate in home school. Idaho’s light regulatory touch means we have zero oversight of either learning environment, which we don’t want to change. But this decision creates a tradeoff we can’t support.

 

We won’t know how your tax dollars will get used or the education a student receives. Offering a tax credit for expenses “related to nonpublic academic instruction” covers a lot of ground. The possibility of a random audit by the State Tax Commission, even under the threat of perjury, doesn’t provide enough

oversight when we’re discussing spending millions of your tax dollars.

 

We only need to look around our country to see how quickly this initiative can run off the rails. Arizona’s recently expanded school voucher program appears on track to run up a whopping $900 million bill for this school year. The original estimate only projected a price tag of $65 million. It’s not difficult to see a similar push to increase the amount appropriated for this program once the camel gets its nose under the tent.

 

This proposal does not make sense for Idaho’s students or taxpayers.

 

We must continue supporting school choice while meeting our constitutional obligation. By adding a tax credit into the system, we immediately take money off the top, shifting funds away from services provided to all Idahoans, including our public schools. We can’t afford to make the costly mistake of losing focus and missing opportunities to make our public schools as great as possible.

 

 

-Representative Stephanie Mickelsen and Senator Kevin Cook, District 32 (Bonneville County)