Despite strong testimony from a wide array of education stakeholder groups opposing the bill, the House Education Committee voted 9-7 to send HB 590 to the House floor. IEA General Counsel Paul Stark testified that the bill is unlikely to pass constitutional muster, while others described it as unnecessary, adversarial to public education, and burdensome to the State Board of Education. As the bill moves to the House floor, we encourage you to contact your local representative and express your opposition to HB 590.
Several testifiers and some committee members called the bill out for what it really is—another step toward full-scale private school vouchers in Idaho. Ostensibly written to create opportunities for under-served students, the bill would establish scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) that would funnel money to private schools. However, these scholarship organizations can already be established, coordinated, and overseen in the private sector now. No legislative action or State Board oversight is needed—unless the goal is to ultimately divert public funds to private schools for “scholarships” or “tax credits”.
Other arguments raised against HB 590 included:
- Lack of accountability for private schools that would receive scholarship money
- This is an attempt to skirt the Blaine Amendments that protect the separation of church and state
- Only about 50% of private schools offer transportation, vs 100% of public schools
- There is already substantial choice and flexibility in the public school system
- Changes to 529 plans now allow families to use those funds for K-12 education
- This bill targets special education students. How many private schools are trained and staffed to support those students?
- Urban and metro areas would benefit at the expense of rural areas
- Private school vouchers have not had positive results in most areas where they have been tried
Despite the arguments and evidence presented against the bill, the committee voted 9-7 to send it to the House floor with a “do-pass” recommendation. Chair Rep. Julie Van Orden cast the deciding vote, saying she had concerns about potential ramifications related to the Americans with Disabilities Act and that she might change her vote on the floor. However, she voted for it in committee.
Other “yes” votes on HB 590 came from: Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls.
“No” votes on HB 590 came from: Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, Rep. Margaret Gannon, D-Saint Maries.
Please reach out to thank those legislators who voted to protect Idaho’s Public Schools. Special thanks go out to the approximately 50 IEA members who attended the hearing to support the efforts of professional educators.
A sizeable group of influential professional educators and policy-makers testified against the private school voucher bill:
- Idaho Education Association General Counsel Paul Stark
- Idaho School Board Association Executive Director Karen Echeverria
- Idaho Association of School Administrators Executive Director Rob Winslow
- Idaho Business for Education President Rod Gramer
- Idaho State Department of Education Chief Policy Advisor Duncan Robb
- School district superintendents from Boise, Weiser, Mountain Home, and Fruitland
- American Association of University Women Co-President Julie Custer
- Idaho PTA Vice President Maria Lorcher
- ACLU Policy Director Kathy Griesmyer
- *State Board of Education Executive Director Matt Freeman expressed concerns with specific sections of the bill, but the State Board did not take a position
The committee opted to override the expertise and opinions of the stakeholders and advanced HB 590 to the House floor. However, the IEA and the stakeholder groups above are committed to fighting for our public schools and will continue to oppose this bill. Get more information and learn how you can help by visiting the Protect Idaho’s Public Schools website. We also have a PDF with specifics about why private school vouchers are wrong for Idaho. Please share this flyer with friends, neighbors, and colleagues.