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Families stymied as Idaho committee shuts down ed choice debate

The evidence of success was there. The testimonies were heartbreaking. The parents traveled from across the state. But in the end, it didn’t seem to matter.

A majority of Idaho legislators serving in the House Revenue and Taxation committee today refused to continue the conversation on even the smallest advancement of education choice options for families.

House Bill 447 would have allowed parents to take a tax credit to help offset the cost of educational expenses outside the public school system. It wasn’t a voucher. It wasn’t a new government program. It didn’t touch a penny of K-12 funding. It was something already familiar to many Idahoans (grocery tax credit, anyone?).

Essentially, it would have helped level the playing field for those students who don’t fit into the public school box.

Parents showed up in person, from across the state, to plead with legislators for more options. One father told legislators he drives 40 minutes each way to a school in another area to make sure his children have the best education possible.

But parents and families were rebuffed.

Instead, legislators sided with school district officials and union leaders who painted a bleak picture of the proposal. One said that the $50 million spend would create havoc in the state budget. Representative Sage Dixon then asked “so would spending the $50 million on K-12 create same kind of problem?” The answer, of course, was no. After all, $50 million is less than 1% of the state's total spending.

Noting that it was a controversial topic, Representative Jeff Ehlers motioned to move the legislation to the floor so that all House members could be involved in the discussion. But the majority even said no to that.

Other conservative states are advancing education freedom. Last session, Montana and Utah successfully passed legislation. This year, Wyoming and Alabama joined. Idaho remains with the group of more liberal states that have more limited options. The Heritage Foundation found Idaho's choice ranking at 29th - below states including Vermont and Maine.

There was no consistent theme from legislators who opposed today. Some said the state couldn’t afford it. Others said K-12 needs more money. Another claimed there was no accountability. Few arguments were about improving outcomes for kids, as Majority Leader Jason Monks pointed out.

Ironically, many of the same arguments made today were used against the opening of public charter schools. And yet, legislators pointed to charter schools as evidence that Idaho already had enough choice.

Whatever the reason, parents and kids who attended the hearing left disappointed - again. It’ll be a long journey back home.

Families who struggle to make ends meet will have to continue footing two bills. And if they can’t afford that? Well, legislators have sent a clear message.

Meanwhile, those who oppose choice and competition celebrate again, defeating the greatest civil rights issue of our time for atleast one more session.

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