The Idaho Senate narrowly approved a voucher bill in a 19-15 vote Thursday. Senate Bill 1161 is the fifth voucher bill introduced during the 2023 legislative session, and the first to be approved in a floor vote.
Introduced by Sen. Lori Den Hartog (R-Meridian), the bill would expand the popular Empowering Parents grant program created by lawmakers in 2022 to allow grants of public tax dollars to pay of private school tuition — despite assurances from the legislation’s sponsors that the program would never be used as a backdoor for vouchers.
IEA members oppose any voucher scheme that uses public tax dollars to pay for private school tuition until Idaho’s public schools are fully funded and provide an equitable and quality public education to every Idaho student.
The bill awaits assignment for a committee hearing and floor vote in the Idaho House of Representatives.
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The bill would create a $12 million tuition grants program under the umbrella of Empowering Parents, which currently only provides micro-grants to public school families for non-tuition-related education expenses. Under the pilot program, families of up to 2,000 eligible students could receive $6,000 to pay tuition at private schools or micro-schools start-up costs. Applicants would be prioritized on an income basis.
IEA Executive Director Paul Stark testified against the program’s expansion to include vouchers in the Senate Education Committee’s hearing on the bill on Tuesday. He cited promises made to IEA members in 2022 that the bill’s sponsors were not planning to use Empowering Parents to pay for private school tuition. Den Hartog and Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls) co-sponsored the 2022 Empowering Parents bill and are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 1161, along with Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise).
CHECK OUT THIS IEA VIDEO HOLDING BILL SPONSORS ACCOUNTABLE
Senate Bill 1161 is the fifth voucher bill brought by lawmakers this legislative session and the only one to survive a committee hearing and floor vote in either chamber. All others were either rejected by lawmakers in committee or on the Senate floor.
“The influence of IEA members was central to the defeat of every voucher bill before lawmakers so far this session and will be essential to killing Senate Bill 1161 in the House,” said IEA Political Director Chris Parri. “Benign labels like ‘scholarships,’ ‘savings accounts,’ or ‘parental choice,’ don’t change the fact that vouchers reduce fair access to educational opportunity, provide no discernable educational benefit to students and offer no accountability to taxpayers for results. IEA will always oppose voucher schemes until the Idaho Legislature lives up to its constitutional duty to public school students.”