State Board opposes private scholarship bill

The State Board of Education has joined the chorus of opposition to a controversial private school scholarship bill.

Voting unanimously, the State Board opposed House Bill 590, which narrowly passed the House Education Committee Wednesday and now awaits a vote on the House floor.

HB 590 would set up a scholarship that could be used to cover tuition at private schools or private online schools. Supporters — including state Rep. John Vander Woude and lobbyist Blake Youde, a former State Board spokesman — say the bill is designed to provide choices for parents of at-risk students, students with disabilities or students in poverty. Critics have labeled HB 590 as a roundabout attempt to create a voucher program.

The State Board’s opposition was twofold.

Board members questioned the mechanics of the bill — and the board’s role in overseeing a scholarship program serving students in private schools. Even board members who were neutral about the scholarship proposal said the oversight role did not fit the State Board’s governance role in public education.

But board members Emma Atchley and Linda Clark had a fundamental objection to the scholarship itself. A private school scholarship could further stretch the state’s limited education resources, said Clark, the board’s president and a former superintendent of the West Ada School District.

“I think it’s a bad policy,” said Clark, “and it’s obvious that it doesn’t fit here.”

The board vote was 7-0. The board’s eighth member, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra, did not attend the meeting — and did not participate by conference call, as several other board members did.

Ybarra missed the 11 a.m. meeting, because she is traveling to Washington, D.C., for a Council of Chief State School Officers legislative meeting and a meeting with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, spokeswoman Allison Westfall said. Ybarra was at the Statehouse for an 8 a.m. House Education hearing Friday.

Ybarra has previously voiced her opposition to HB 590.

The State Board is just the latest group to come out against HB 590. The Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Education Association and Idaho Business for Education oppose the bill. And several school district superintendents testified against the bill during Wednesday’s House Education meeting.

The State Board weighed in on four other bills looming as the Legislature enters into its final weeks:

  • The board will oppose House Bill 566, which would allow charter schools to hire an administrator through an alternative certification route. The bill passed the House Thursday.
  • The board will support House Bill 631, which would make it easier for out-of-state graduate students to qualify for in-state tuition. The bill has passed the House unanimously and has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.
  • The board endorsed House Bill 648, which would require all Idaho high schools to offer a computer science elective. The course could be offered in a classroom or online. The House could vote on the bill early next week.
  • The board also endorsed Senate Bill 1291, a turnaround schools bill. The bill would provide consulting help to low-performing schools that choose to sign up for a three-year turnaround program. SB 1291 is headed to the Senate floor for amendment; the sponsor, Senate Education Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, says he wants to remove punitive language from the bill.
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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