New education choice bills in Idaho, Wyoming
We’re getting our first look at the first education choice bills to be introduced in the Idaho and Wyoming legislatures this year.
In Idaho, a draft of the “Freedom in Education Savings Account” (ESA) bill has been circulating online and discussed in a news release by the Idaho Freedom Caucus. The seven-page document creates ESA’s in Idaho within the following guidelines:
· Total amount per student would be equal to 80% of the state funding for public schools. That means families who sign up would have access to approximately $5,950 to use for educational expenses or even private school tuition. Leaving 20% means the state’s public schools actually stand to gain a 20% bonus for not educating a child. The likelihood is that per student funding in K-12 public schools in Idaho would rise.
· Approved expenses include tuition and fees and private schools, but a host of other items as well, including educational therapies, educational and psychological evaluations, tutoring and much more. Transportation and technology would also be included.
· Requires random quarterly and annual audits of the ESA’s, giving the state Attorney General the option to investigate misuse of funds.
· Allows for 3% of funds to be used for administration.
· Creates parent oversight committee of six parents participating, to be appointed by legislative leadership and the governor.
· Parents must apply regularly and sign an agreement on the use of the funds.
· Left over funds would roll over year to year.
Meantime in Wyoming, legislators in the House have officially introduced HB0194 – the Wyoming Freedom Scholarship Act - with a boatload of sponsors. The Wyoming bill includes:
· The total amount per student would be $6,000 and adjusted annually with inflation. Can be used for tuition and fees at a “qualified” school or online non-public schooling, as well as tutoring, transportation, and technology.
· Ensures funds can be used for “educational services and therapies including, but not limited to, occupational, behavioral, physical, speech‑language and audiology therapies.” This is especially critical for special needs students.
· Language that says “No parent shall be required to include any instruction that conflicts with the parent's or ESA student's religious doctrines.”
· Allows state treasurer to contract with private organization or receive gifts or grants to administer the ESA program and set up an anonymous telephone hotline for fraud reporting.
· Active until a student enrolls full time in a public school.
· Authority to refer suspected cases of intentional and substantial misuse of ESA funds to the department of audit or the attorney general.
· Creates a seven-person parent review commission to determine effectiveness.
· Allows education service providers to Register with the state treasurer to receive payments from ESAs.
· For federal funds, 50% would go to school foundation program account and 50% would go to freedom scholarship account.
Neither of these bills are set in stone. There will be amendments and likely changes. And there could also be other proposals put forward. Stay tuned for our analysis.