The Senate Education Committee killed a bill that would have given money to parents who withdrew children from school districts that did not offer full-time face-to-face learning.
Even before Monday’s divided Senate vote, Rep. Codi Galloway’s proposal has been contentious.
Galloway, R-Boise, argues the bill is intended to encourage districts to reopen full-time after COVID-19 forced many into remote or hybrid learning, and to help parents afford an alternative if districts were not open at least four days a week. If a parent chose to withdraw their student from school because learning was not in-person, state funding for that student would have been withheld from the former district and given to the parent instead, to seek a different educational option.
She made the case that students have suffered academically and struggled with mental health issues because schools have not been in person full-time.
“I would not be doing my job on the House Education Committee if I don’t stand up and speak for the kids,” Galloway said. “We know the cause of the problem, and we know how to reverse it: We just need to open our schools.”
The Idaho School Boards Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators both opposed the bill, arguing it would punish districts that had to balance in-person learning needs against health precautions necessary to combat the coronavirus.
Senators were split over the bill’s intent and its necessity.
“Is this about sending a message to the school by pulling funding, or is this a bill to take the funding and move it elsewhere?” asked Sen. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle. “We already have it in place that the school loses funding if the student is unenrolled.”
Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, argued in favor of the bill. She cited calls from countless parents in Idaho’s largest districts talking about how school closures have negatively impacted their families.
“I think it gives parents resources,” Den Hartog said about the bill. “I don’t think this is about punishment, at least the way I see it.”
David Nelson, D-Moscow, questioned whether it was legal for the state to give parents state funds, which could then be used for paying private or religious schools.
Galloway cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision from last year, when the high court ruled a Montana state scholarship program must be made available for students in private schools, including religious schools. The ruling targeted so-called Blaine Amendments, including Idaho’s amendment which prohibits using public funding for religious entities or schools.
“I think there is good court precedent that would support this,” Galloway said.
Ultimately, the divided committee voted against sending Galloway’s proposal to the Senate floor, killing it.
“I have a hard time weighing who is at fault here,” said Sen. Janie Ward Engelking, D-Boise. “It’s certainly not our school districts’ fault. It’s certainly not our teachers’ fault. It’s just the situation we’re in. Hopefully we’ll have better insight next time and will do a better job.”