IEA-Led Collaboration Helps Defeat Private School Voucher Bill
Threats to the public school system are nothing new to Idahoans or to the Idaho Education Association, so when HB 590 was introduced during the 2018 legislative session, IEA members and staff rolled up their sleeves and took the lead in opposition to the thinly-veiled private school voucher bill. The hard work paid off when the bill was pulled from the Senate Education Committee calendar late in the session, killing it for this year.
The IEA launched an initiative called Protect Idaho’s Public Schools, including a website (https://idahoea.org/vouchers/) that serves as a clearinghouse for information about why private school vouchers are such a serious concern for the neighborhood public schools that serve as the bedrock of so many communities in Idaho. There was certainly no shortage of information, data, and perspective to include regarding the fallacies and disingenuousness of private school vouchers. However, some legislators still dug in their heels and supported HB 590.
“It was critical that we educate everyone—members, legislators, parents, and the public at-large, regarding what HB 590 was really about,” says IEA President Kari Overall. “This legislation had been framed by proponents as an innocuous ‘scholarship’ bill, but in reality, it was a first step toward Idaho’s public funds being siphoned off for wholesale private school vouchers.”
As word started to spread about the true intent of HB 590, more individuals and organizations joined the resistance and pushed back on the legislation. Together with the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the IEA released a statement opposing private school vouchers and highlighting the reasons they would be detrimental to students and public schools. In quick succession, the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho PTA and other groups joined the fray in opposing HB 590.
“The collaboration of these education stakeholder groups played a significant role in defeating the private school voucher bill,” says IEA Executive Director Sue Wigdorski. “I’m convinced the collective voice of so many education experts and people on the front lines of our public school system ultimately made the difference.”
Despite two days of compelling, in-person testimony from many of these groups, the House Education Committee voted 9-7 to send the bill to the House floor. General Counsel Paul Stark testified on behalf of the IEA, and a large group of members traveled to the Capitol from around the state to attend the meeting. There was considerable disagreement about HB 590 on the House floor, but ultimately it passed the House in a 39-31 vote.
Hundreds of IEA members made plans to attend a Senate Education Committee hearing to share their opposition to the bill. Many more supporters of public education contacted legislators to express their opinions about the dangerous legislation. When it became apparent the committee did not have the votes to pass the legislation and with the session winding down, HB 590 was pulled from the docket, effectively killing it for 2018.
“Defeating the private school voucher bill was a huge win for Idaho public schools, students, teachers, and communities,” says Overall. “It is our sincere hope that this defeat of vouchers will bring an end to the assault on our public schools. Instead of trying to circumvent Idaho’s public schools, let’s invest in them so they have the proper resources needed to provide the maximum educational experience for every child.”