Updated: Jul 21
The Idaho House Education Committee is considering a proposal to place an advisory question before voters next fall (2024) regarding education choice. There is widespread support for education choice, but policymakers need to exercise extreme caution with this idea.
The proposal introduced Tuesday by Representative Lori McCann would simply ask voters if they wanted to “divert public tax dollars to private K-12 schools, including religious schools and for-profit schools.”
Unfortunately, the question misses the mark and represents – again – the confusion that currently exists among lawmakers regarding education choice. Some lawmakers believe they are voting on a “voucher” bill. Even the sponsor of the advisory question referred to “ESA/voucher bills.”
But most of the Idaho legislative session has featured debates about Education Savings Accounts – not vouchers. And they are very different.
An ESA allows parents to use a portion of state funding on a variety of education services. Yes, it can include private school tuition, but it can also include tutoring, special needs services, curriculum, mental health treatment and much more - so long as it is for an educational purpose.
Furthermore, using the word “divert” suggests the money is being taken from someplace else – such as public schools. In fact, most of the proposals actually suggest creating a separate budget item. And the per-student funding in public schools would likely increase, as proposals have included 20% of funds being put into K-12.
Instead of placing a simplistic question on the ballot this fall, legislators should opt for an interim legislative study on existing ESA programs across the country. This could be done by an unbiased source – perhaps the state Controller or Legislative Audit Division – and could be available by the time the next session begins. Lawmakers could make their request specific – getting much-needed answers to questions that could determine a way forward for education choice in Idaho.