The most crucial decision for education since statehood will take place this session

It’s not an overstatement to say that the most crucial decision for education since statehood will take place during this Idaho legislative session.

It’s a decision that determines whether lawmakers remain faithful to the Idaho Constitution which 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.”

It’s a decision that determines if Article IX, Section 5 of the Constitution is repealed by statute instead of by a vote of the people as the Constitution requires.

It’s a decision that could lead to property tax increases as the cost of education soars.

It’s a decision that could tear at the social and economic fabric of Idaho’s rural communities.

It’s a decision that will decide whether it is the state’s role to use taxpayers’ money to directly subsidize enterprises that are privately owned and operated.

The decision facing lawmakers is whether to use taxpayers’ dollars to finance private and religious schools.

When I speak of privatization, I refer to various ways taxpayers’ money is siphoned off to private and religious schools, including voucher scholarships, education savings accounts (ESA) and tax-credit programs. Each drains money from public schools and creates three new school systems for taxpayers to fund – private, religious, and potentially home schools.

Applying Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind” maxim, I have researched what has happened to public education, taxes, and student achievement in long-time privatization states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Arizona. Looking at these states is the best way to see what privatization will do to Idaho.

My conclusion: vouchers will take money away from public schools, increase the cost of education to taxpayers, lead to property tax increases, and not fulfill the promise of improving academic achievement.

The negative impact on public education and taxpayers will be especially acute for rural communities which are already struggling with inequities in funding, deteriorating school buildings and teacher shortages. They also don’t stand to benefit from privatization – there are few private schools in rural Idaho.

In other states, rural citizens are forced to raise their property taxes so people in cities can send their kids to private and religious schools. Are Idaho’s rural citizens ready to raise their property taxes? Not really. This year’s BSU Idaho Policy Institute study shows 56 percent of Idahoans already think their property taxes are too high.

I have written a series of essays (go to looking at the impact of vouchers in these states. One essay looks at what’s happened in Wisconsin, the first state to create vouchers 33 years ago. Another studies privatization in Indiana, Ohio, and Arizona, which last year became the first state to pass a universal ESA law with no limit on family income eligibility.

I connect the dots between the out-of-state billionaires and their front groups that are advocating for vouchers in Idaho. I cite studies, including from pro-voucher think tanks, showing students who move from public to private schools don’t do better academically and often worse. There is virtually no accountability and transparency when taxpayer dollars flow to private and religious schools, even according to one pro-voucher think tank report.

One argument Idahoans hear is that vouchers are about “parental choice,” and money should “follow the student.” But vouchers are not about parental choice – they are about which students private and religious schools choose. That’s the bottom-line parents should know.

Go to and read my essays, do your own research and you decide whether privatization is good for Idaho. My answer to that question is an emphatic no.


Rod Gramer

Rod Gramer

Rod Gramer is president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, a group of Idaho business leaders dedicated to education excellence.

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