Statehouse roundup, 3.6.23: New ESA bill surfaces

A bill to create a $12 million-a-year education savings accounts program resurfaced Monday morning.

The bill doesn’t appear different from a proposal briefly discussed in the House Education Committee last week.

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian

The bill unveiled Monday would piggyback onto the Empowering Parents program — which now allows parents to seek grants to cover out-of-pocket education costs, such as computers, curriculum or counseling.

The bill would divert $12 million from the $30-million-a-year Empowering Parents grant program, to fund tuition grants for nonpublic schools, or microschool launches. Parents could receive $6,000 for tuition grants or microschools — up from the existing Empowering Parents grants, which are capped at $1,000 per child or $3,000 per family.

The bill would create a five-year tuition grant pilot, capped at 2,000 students statewide.

Monday’s action is the latest development in the turbulent debate over education savings accounts, tuition scholarships or other forms of school choice.

On Tuesday, Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, presented the Empowering Parents grant proposal to House Education. But sponsors pulled their bill before Thursday’s House Education meeting, when lawmakers rejected a $17.5 million education savings account bill proposed by Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls.

The tuition grants bill — co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise; Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls; and Den Hartog — went through the Senate State Affairs Committee Monday. That’s because State Affairs is one of a select number of legislative committees that can introduce a bill late in the session.

The tuition grants bill is now likely to go back to the Senate Education Committee for a full hearing at a later date. Senate Education approved a $45 million universal ESA bill in February, but the Senate voted it down last week.

Senate passes charter school refinancing bill

More charter schools could be in line for refinancing, under a bill that sailed through the Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 1042 would expand a financing plan approved in 2019. In effect, it means the state could wind up backstopping $244 million in charter school facilities loans, up from the current $122 million cap.

So far, nine Idaho charter schools have used the program, saving $9.8 million in interest and financing costs, said Den Hartog, with is co-sponsoring the bill with Winder.

SB 1042 would also extend the financing plan to charter schools that entirely serve at-risk students.

With the Senate’s 33-0 vote, the bill now goes to the House.

House members honor former lawmaker

The House did not go into session Monday — and most House committees were off Monday — as lawmakers went to Eastern Idaho for funeral services for former Rep. Dell Raybould.

The Rexburg Republican, an 18-year House member, died Thursday. His granddaughter, Rep. Britt Raybould, now serves in the House.

House members are scheduled to return to work Tuesday morning. House Education has posted a full agenda for Tuesday.


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]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday