School Vouchers:  The “Idaho Way” Irony

It’s no secret that Idaho’s Republican Legislature does not like public assistance programs.  These political leaders, their supporters, and the people who look and think like them are ignoring the needs of lower income Idahoans and their families.  Whether the struggle is affording adequate housing or accessing medical care or supporting a family on Idaho’s $7.25 minimum wage, their reaction to other’s situations remains the same.

“They need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

“They just have to work harder.”

“If they improved their skills, they’d make better wages.”

Remember how in 2019 Rep. Barbara Ehardt penned a letter to Boise State University’s incoming president Dr. Marlene Tromp?  Rep. Ehardt and the other 27 Republican representatives demanded that equity programs for underserved groups of students be eliminated to curb rising tuition costs at BSU.  Those Republican leaders stated that the “Idaho Way” did not use taxpayer monies to give special treatment to select groups of students.

Based on our Republican politicians previous claims, HB215 contradicts their own rhetoric.  The bill’s backers intend to use an ongoing $5 million from the general fund to provide scholarships for students who have attended public school in the previous year.  Eight hundred students will receive $6,041 or 90% of the amount that Idaho currently spends per student ($6,713).  Parents can use our taxpayer money to offset the cost of tuition at the private school of their choice, including private religious schools.  While the “Idaho Way” did not include spending taxpayer monies for social programs targeting underserved students in 2019, Idaho’s 2021 legislature has no problem spending our tax money on schools integrating religious indoctrination as part of the curriculum.

Read between the lines of HB215:

  • $5 million will provide government subsidized scholarships to 800 (0.003%) of Idaho’s roughly 305,000 public school students.
  • HB215 creates a public assistance program—welfare—for education.
  • Scholarships are awarded to the previous year’s public school students.
    • Current private school students need not apply.
    • Students will not qualify once they receive their first scholarship.

HB215 ignores rural Idaho:

  • 22 rural counties have no private schools
  • 16 rural counties have private schools
    • Six of these 16 counties do not have private schools serving grades 9-12.

Low-income Idahoans, struggling to pay for life’s necessities are left out:

  • Parents must contribute $4,000 in addition to the $6,041 scholarship to send their child to Bishop Kelly High School.
  • Private schools and Idaho’s charter schools are not required to provide transportation and nutritional services.
    • Parents working low-wage jobs cannot afford to provide lunch or transport their children to and from school each day.

Ironically, the very same people criticizing programs for underserved students at BSU and subsidies for low-income families are now creating educational welfare in Idaho.  The “Idaho way,” “school choice,” and “funding follows the student” advocates really mean Idaho pays their way, so they get their choice.

“They need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and pay for their kid’s private school themselves.”

“They just need to work harder to pay for tuition.”

“If they improved their skills, they’d make enough money to pay the private school tuition on their own.”

Idaho’s constitution states, “…it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”  Idaho contributes $6,713 of state tax money to cover the cost of educating each public school student.  That money goes to the traditional public or charter school of the parent’s choosing.  Idaho’s legislature has been refusing to do its job because 92 of Idaho’s 115 school districts require supplemental levies to make up the difference between the state’s contribution and the real cost of educating Idaho’s students.

Until our Republican legislators live up to their responsibility of fully funding all of Idaho’s free common public schools, passing HB215 to give 0.003% of Idaho’s public school students special treatment amounts to a dereliction of their duty.

Joanne Holtz

About

Joanne Holtz is a retired teacher living in Huston, Idaho.

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