Although the 2012 Idaho Legislature has lacked the pitched battles of last year, there have been plenty of bills that are damaging to public schools and educators’ rights. Even in the waning days of the session, today’s House Education Committee was the setting for two such pieces of legislation.
The first, H670, sets up a conduit to circumvent the Idaho Constitution’s prohibitions against state support for private schools. It would establish Scholarship Granting Organizations to allow Idahoans within generous income guidelines to get a 100 percent tax credit for money donated, via the SGO, to fund a child’s attendance at a private school. Under this measure, money that would otherwise be paid in taxes to Idaho would be credited to the individual on a dollar-by-dollar, penny-by-penny basis of what they put into an SGO. Corporations would be eligible for a 50 percent tax break for such donations to private schools. Thus, the individual or corporation would be filtering what would otherwise be tax funds through a SGO to support private (often religious) schools.
Chairman Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene) said the bill was inspired by private schools in his area losing enrollment due to the economy, and he welcomed Dale Buwalda of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice as his “co-sponsor” for the bill, even though Buwalda lives in Indiana. Buwalda’s long-winded presentation made it clear that SGOs are a way to get around separation issues and that the mechanism has been upheld by courts in other states.
Idaho Education Association General Counsel Paul Stark brought up a range of problems with the bill. Aside from the Constitutional issues, he noted that it would drain about $10 million from the public schools: enough to support the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and the state’s new math and science requirements for a year, or the costs of the math initiative, reading initiative, and remediation costs and two-thirds of the cost for all juniors to complete the new college entrance exam.
Stark also argued that it’s not wise to set precedents for citizens to get around paying taxes to support public services that they choose not to use. He suggested that if this bill passes, perhaps he might get a tax credit for flying to North Idaho instead of using the state highways, or maybe he would get a tax write-off for buying books rather than borrowing them from a public library.
Both Karen Echeverria of the Idaho School Boards Association and Rob Winslow of the Idaho Association of School Administrators indicated their groups would like to study the measure more. In the end, Rep. Steve Thayn (R-Emmett) moved that the bill be held in committee and Rep. Reed DeMordaunt (R-Emmett) agreed, noting he had too many questions. But instead, lawmakers voted to pass it to the full House for amendments.
Today’s other ideologically inspired bill in the House Ed Committee was H671. It is being billed as a tweak to the liability insurance reporting requirements passed last year in Senate Bill 1108, but today it mainly served to give a leading IEA opponent another chance to step onto a soapbox and pitch a “non-union” alternative organization that has failed in Idaho’s free marketplace. The committee will resume its consideration of H671 tomorrow.
In other news, H663, a bill that would give charter schools access to bond funds with only the vote of the charter school board, was pulled from the House floor today. Betsy Russell of Eye on Boise reported that floor debate “turned sharply against the bill” before its sponsor, DeMordaunt, agreed to return it to committee.