The House Education Committee voted Wednesday to introduce a bill that would create new scholarships students could use to pursue an education outside the public school system.
Sponsoring Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said the scholarship could be applied for tuition at a private school, tuition at a nonpublic online school, tutoring, textbooks, computers, fees for standardized tests, summer education programs and more.
“It’s a scholarship granting bill that basically tries to help kids that don’t fit in an environment — low-income families, kids with disabilities — to try to give those parents options of where their kids might fit in to get their best education,” Vander Woude told Idaho Education News.
But the leaders of three major education groups lined up to oppose the bill, saying they can’t support any proposal that could steer state resources away from public schools.
“No matter what you call it, if it’s public money going to private schools, we are firmly opposed to that concept,” Idaho Education Association President Kari Overall said in an interview after the meeting.
The IEA, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators share concerns about funding for the scholarship bill. The groups issued a joint news release Tuesday night opposing private school vouchers.
Vander Woude’s bill didn’t specifically propose vouchers, but Overall said education advocates are bracing for the possible introduction of a full-blown voucher bill later this session.
Vander Woude said his bill would not shift any state general fund money into private schools, a practice that would violate the state Constitution.
“This scholarship will never work constitutionally with the Blaine Amendment,” Vander Woude said. “You cannot take general fund money and appropriate it to something like this. That would not work.”
But in future years, Vander Woude said, supporters could propose a tax credit to serve as an incentive for companies to donate to the scholarship fund.
The leaders of the education groups said they would oppose any effort to create a scholarship tax credit.
The bill has backing from a new Idaho nonprofit organization, the Education for All Policy Action Network. According to state filing documents, Blake Youde is the nonprofit’s registered agent; Youde was a State Board of Education spokesman who is now a legislative lobbyist.
Youde sent out a news release outlining the new bill and accompanied Vander Woude to Wednesday’s hearing.
Introducing the bill clears the way for it to return to House Education for a full hearing.