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Court cases on education freedom could be felt here, soon

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Education freedom for parents could be one of the top issues of the upcoming legislative session, not only in Idaho but across the mountain states and the country.

Lawmakers in several states have already passed or are seriously considering proposals that would give parents more say over their child’s education dollars. In Arizona, legislators passed the broadest school choice bill in the country, giving parents access to the funds allocated for their child’s education to use for educational supplements for public school or even private schooling options.

In Idaho, similar pieces of legislation have been introduced, but some lawmakers have expressed concern regarding the state’s constitution, which proclaims the state must “maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” The words “uniform and thorough,” in particular, give some pause, believing that the constitution specifically forbids public money being used to fund anything other than public schools.

A similar debate just played out in West Virginia, where the constitution requires a “thorough and efficient” education system. West Virginia recently passed an education freedom law called the “Hope Scholarship.” But opponents pointed to the state constitution’s “thorough and efficient” language and said it wasn’t permitted. The West Virginia Supreme Court has just disagreed.

From the majority’s ruling:

“We find that the West Virginia Constitution does not prohibit the Legislature from enacting the Hope Scholarship Act in addition to providing for a thorough and efficient system of free schools. The Constitution allows the Legislature to do both of these things.”

Let's be clear: education freedom doesn't mean dismantling the public school option. The courts have recognized the ability of states to do both things. The more options for parents, the better. The point is to improve educational outcomes for all children.

Lawmakers in Idaho will likely consider a flurry of education freedom bills this session. The dispute over "uniform and through" will most certainly be front and center.

As we pointed out in our Analysis of Idaho’s Quality Education Act, “the dictionary defines “thorough” as “complete with regard to every detail.” That doesn’t mean omitting options for parents. In the end, parents know what best works for their child.

Lawmakers might also consider the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling, overturning Maine’s ban on public funds at religious schools.

In the coming weeks, we'll be releasing an in-depth study on education freedom options available for lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session.

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