Scholarship tax credit bill goes to House

Once again — and over the objections of education groups — the House will consider a bill offering tax breaks to donors who support private school scholarship programs.

Vander Woude, 3.6.14
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, explains his tax credit bill to the House Revenue and Taxation Committee Thursday.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee passed House Bill 507, a $10 million tax incentive bill. The bill now heads to the House floor, where a tax credit bill narrowly passed last year before it was defeated in Senate committee.

The new version is “very similar” to the 2013 model, said the sponsor, Rep, John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. But the incentives are somewhat narrower. Individuals can get a tax credit of up to 50 percent, for contributions to a scholarship fund. Corporations would be able to write off up to 50 percent of their total tax liability.

The goal, say supporters, is to fund $10 million a year in scholarships to allow students from low-income families to attend private school. The tax credits would yield about a dollar-for-dollar savings in public school spending.

According to the bill’s statement of purpose, $10 million in tax credits could support enough scholarships to allow more than 3,300 students to attend private school. But Vander Woude conceded these enrollment figures were rough estimates.

Testimony split along sharp ideological lines.

Advocates for charter schools and private schools argued for the bill — saying it would foster school choice. Michael Sage, a Boise parent, said his son was struggling to learn to read and write in public school, and school officials were unresponsive. His son has blossomed since he was transferred to Cole Valley Christian School. “507 puts the child first.”

Three stakeholder groups — the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Education Association — argued against the bill.

Phil Homer of the IASA said the tax credits would divert dollars from public schools, just as the Legislature is trying to reverse cuts from the recession. Paul Stark, the IEA’s general counsel, called the bill a “gamble,” and questioned how many students the scholarship program would actually help.

“At its core, we believe that this is a voucher system,” Stark said. “There’s some gymnastics going on here.”

The bill heads to the House floor, but even if it passes, it may still face an uncertain future. The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee resoundingly rejected the bill in 2013. And Vander Woude would not go so far as to say the new bill would pass muster with Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, a Rexburg Republican and CPA who holds considerable sway over tax issues in the Senate.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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