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Republicans again push to fund private schools

Does anyone else find it funny that Idaho legislators–who want to stop school boards from asking voters to vote on bonds time after time–feel free to bring up legislation to stop that time after time? School boards have a moral obligation to see that students are housed in safe buildings. Actually, legislators have a moral and constitutional obligation to do the same, but tradition allows them to ignore that responsibility.

Some legislators don’t understand that no means no. Like those again pushing to require initiatives to get signatures from 6% of the voters in all 35 legislative districts. Their arguments are the same as in 2020: we shouldn’t leave rural districts out. When the Idaho Supreme Court overthrew that law, Justice Greg Moeller pointed out that allowing a single district to stop an initiative is a two-edged sword: “Any policy that a rural area wanted to propose could be vetoed by any of five legislative districts in Boise…”

Is there another argument for ending voter initiatives? Qualifying two in four years doesn’t seem excessive. Idahoans definitely want medical care for the poor and better conditions in our schools.

It appears to be just too much “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” for some legislators.

And how many times under how many names have legislators pushed to fund private schools? The Idaho Constitution requires the state to “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Yet, legislators are pushing to fund private schools without requiring any accountability. Under SB 1038, Freedom in Education Savings Accounts, it’s the parents getting the money and making the choice so private schools aren’t a direct party to the transaction.

If I could talk a few parents into sending kids to a school to learn to live off the land–kill their own chickens, make their own butter, and weed my garden–taxpayers would pay me $6,000 per student.

You’d think legislators would worry that I'd add a little anti-racism into the curriculum, maybe even some readings pointing out capitalism’s problems.

They don’t worry, however, because right now most of Idaho’s private schools are Christian ones. Canyon County’s private schools include Catholic, Lutheran, Adventist, Baptist, Friends and non-denominational curricula; all 10 are religious.

Thirty-two of the state’s 122 private schools are in Ada County. Only 13 counties have more than two private schools; 21 have none. Yet, even in Ada County, poor kids may not be able to access a private school. The proposed voucher amount would run $3,000 short of tuition at Bishop Kelly High School.

Estimates of the first year’s cost to the state is $19.4 million. Arizona budgeted $20 million in 2011 and $300 million this year. Just what wouldn’t have to be cut to pay for that?

With a name like “Freedom in Education Savings Accounts” this bill can be easily confused with Strong Families, Strong Students or its replacement Empower Parents. These two were supplements to education, paying for items like tutors, texts, and computers.

Under Strong Students families could get reimbursed for a wide variety of items, including museum and aquarium tickets. Ironically, Empower Parents limits parents’ purchases to items in an online state marketplace. Idaho pays a maximum of $1,000 per child–or $3,000 per family. That was funded at $50 million for two years.

How could the legislature plan to give $6,000 Freedom in Education grants per child at a cost of only $20 million the first year? It would cost $100,000,000 just to fund the 18,000 students now in private schools.

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