By KEITH RIDLER, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Proponents say a plan to create college savings accounts will help students in kindergarten through 12th grade, but opponents said it’s just one another voucher program to channel money from public education to private and religious schools.
The House Education Committee heard arguments on the measure on Monday, but took no action after running out of time due to many people signing up to testify.
The measure allows parents to get $6,000 per student from the state for tutoring or classes at private schools. Funders said it would allow parents to select the services that work best for their children.
“That money is no good,” said Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon, one of the bill’s sponsors. “This money is an education savings account.”
But opponents argued it was a voucher system under a different name that violated the Idaho Constitution, which requires a uniform public education system. Opponents said it would particularly hurt rural school districts.
“It will just take money from public education,” said Andy Grover, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
He was among several educational organizations that testified against the measure, including Quinn Perry of the Idaho School Boards Association.
“(Education savings accounts) are seen as a school voucher for us,” Perry said, noting that private schools receiving public money would not be held accountable for the program. “To us, a yes vote on this bill seems to undermine the accountability of this committee and the legislature on oversight of schools.”
Carolyn Harrison testified in support of the bill, saying it would help parents provide a “God-centered” upbringing for their children.
“There is an inordinate amount of time spent teaching identity politics and theories of social justice (in Idaho public schools),” she said.
Mandi Guy made a similar point in supporting the bill.
“My husband and I would prefer that our three children attend a private Christian school that matches our values, morals and beliefs,” she said.
According to the National Education Association, the $7,705 Idaho spent per student in the 2019-20 school year ranked it last in the nation.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Educational Sciences for the 2018-2019 school year reported that only five states and the District of Columbia had lower high school graduation rates than Idaho ( 81%). The Idaho State Department of Education said the graduation rate rose to 82.1% for 2019-20, a school year that included the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic and the elimination by the State of certain conditions for obtaining the diploma.
Republican Idaho Gov. Brad Little has proposed an 11% budget increase for public schools this year, a record $300 million increase over the amount of the budget last year spent on schools. But lawmakers did not vote to approve the budget bills involving this proposed public spending on education.
Republican Rep. Lance Clow, chair of the education committee, said the committee would take up the measure later this week. It is possible that the committee will vote on whether to send the measure to the whole House.
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