Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Response to Wendy Horman

Sean Coletti

For decades, Idaho has led the way when it came to school choice. From magnet schools to charter schools, our legislature and communities have provided publicly-funded options beyond our traditional K-12 schools. Last year, Idaho formalized the right of every Idaho student to attend the public school of their choice, regardless of their address. We’ve also maintained a hands-off approach when it comes to private education, including home schooling.

Idaho’s record on school choice stands as a testament to providing parents with the right to educate their children as they see fit. The only line we’ve drawn on this issue rests on the question of public dollars paying for private, K-12 education. The practical reasons for holding this line reflect the obligation established in Idaho’s Constitution.

The legislature has a duty to “maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” It doesn’t have a constitutional obligation to fund private or home schools. Proponents gloss over the consequences of pursuing a policy that would create two publicly-funded K-12 systems. But only one of those systems would owe any responsibility to Idaho taxpayers.

With every public funding for private education proposal, requests for some type of accountability meet with resistance. This latest proposal (a tax rebate to eligible families) relied solely on the possibility of the State Tax Commission conducting an audit. Private schools in the Treasure Valley sent emails to their patrons, praising the virtues of this “no-strings-attached” program and encouraged parents to voice their support. Imagine if a legislator supported any other taxpayer-funded program without demanding transparency and accountability. That legislator wouldn’t have a job after the next election.

Beyond the push to spend public dollars with minimal oversight, these proposals rarely address the issue of total cost. The budget proposed for the tax rebate ($50 million) may seem like a small amount in comparison to the state’s overall education budget. How could this program hurt our public schools? In state after state, the implementation of vouchers, education saving accounts (ESAs), or similar programs far exceeded original projections.

In Arizona during the 2021-22 school year, the state paid out approximately $188 million for its ESA program. In the following year, the price tag increased to $587.5 million. This year, the program will spend an estimated $1 billion. Data from Arizona and New Hampshire shows that few students applying for these programs were leaving public schools. Instead, the money was flowing to students already enrolled in private or home school options.

Finally, we hear the argument that families are only asking to receive back the taxes they pay that go towards schools. They’re only asking for their fair share. The average Idaho family pays under $2,000/year in income tax. The proposed tax rebate would have sent $5,000/child to each participating family with no cap on how much a family received.

Proposals that call for funding private education with public dollars want us to ignore these questions. How will Idaho ever meet its constitutional obligation if more dollars must go out to pay for a second school system? How will Idaho uphold its responsibility to provide accountability and transparency for spending tax dollars?

I will always support the right of parents to pursue the education they want for their children. But that right doesn’t come with potentially unlimited taxpayer dollars and no questions asked.

Sean Coletti

Sean Coletti

Sean J. Coletti is the Mayor of Ammon, Idaho and a candidate for the Idaho House of Representatives, Seat 32-B.

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