Updated: Jul 21
"It's a journey," Idaho Senator Dave Lent said, before voting against Senate Bill 1038 - the first bill of the session to create Education Savings Accounts in Idaho.
The Idaho state Senate voted 12-23 against the legislation, even as many members spoke in favor of many aspects of the bill.
"I look forward to seeing more bills related to education choice this session," Senator Ben Adams said. "But this one creates a new government program."
"This is the next iteration [of education choice]," said Senator Lori Den Hartog, encouraging legislators to be in favor even if they might not like every aspect.
When MSPC was invited to testify several weeks ago, we encouraged legislators not to make perfect the enemy of the good. Arizona did not advance more education savings accounts overnight, and Idaho won't either. Whether it's this proposal or another, policymakers have the chance to advance more options for more families this session.
While 1038 checked a lot of boxes and some considered it a home run in terms of what it accomplished, there is no shame in getting a double or a triple. Attempting to bring more buy-in from more legislators is a good thing.
Some of the debate today centered on the state's constitutional mandate regarding public education. It is important to note that West Virginia had similar language, and the state Supreme Court there ruled there was no reason why legislators couldn't meet their constitutional requirements and launch an ESA at the same time.
Idaho Representative Lance Clow may be ready to introduce another ESA bill in the lower chamber as soon as this week. We'll see what language that includes. Senator Chuck Winder also seemed to open the door by indicating there were other options coming. Both Winder and Senator C. Scott Grow also suggested amending the language in 1038.
Another option for lawmakers is to expand the state's Empowering Parents program to allow for more participation and more access. Senator Julie VanOrden suggested taking parts of 1038 and adding them to Empowering Parents.
Our Idaho Poll showed strong support for education choice - when it was understood what education choice meant.
As we've detailed in our study Education Choice Improves Outcomes, education choice is important because education choice improves outcomes for children. Each state can and should craft its own plan with children and parents at the core. In places where education choice is allowed, the results are impressive.
The vast majority of credible evidence shows education choice programs save taxpayers money, allow for more diverse schools, and improve academic outcomes for those participating and those who choose to stay in their local schools.
Our kids don't have a union. They don't have a special interest group. All they have is parents and lawmakers.
The education choice debate in Idaho's current legislative session is still in the first couple of innings. Stay tuned.