Voucher Intrigue in House Education Committee

On Thursday, House Education Committee members were expecting the introduction of three new “education savings account” voucher bills.

One of those potential bills, brought forward by Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls), was discussed but rejected by the committee with members refusing to even “print” the draft legislation — essentially a refusal to have a public hearing on it in their committee.

However, the other two voucher bills on the committee’s early morning docket were removed from the agenda at the last minute — a maneuver by the bills’ sponsors that several dismayed committee members attributed to fears that the bills would be rejected like Clow’s.

One of those proposed voucher bills would expand the state’s Empowering Parents grant program allowing grant recipients to use up to $6,000 in program funding to pay for private school tuition. Currently, Empowering Parents grants are available for up to $1,000 and can be used for a variety of wrap around services for public and home school students. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls), co-chairwoman of the powerful Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, the Legislature’s budget-writing panel.

The other proposed voucher bill removed from the House Education Committee agenda is “education savings account” voucher legislation from Rep. Jaron Crane (R-Nampa). It would expand the Idaho College Savings Program, or 529 plan, to allow families of eligible students to apply for an omnibus ESA through the state superintendent’s office. Approved accounts would receive $1,500 annually, until the student graduates from high school, obtains a GED or is older than 21. The money could be used to pay tuition at nonpublic schools.

In a long and frank debate on whether to print Clow’s bill, committee members speculated that the bills removed from their agenda would be “rerouted” to other more voucher-friendly committees. That notion colored the discussion on the fate of Clow’s bill with members worried that, once printed, it would pulled from the House Education Committee to be heard in another committee more friendly to voucher schemes.

Despite that, committee members still found plenty to dislike in the details of Clow’s legislation — including accountability and funding concerns — and ultimately voted it down.

“My emails are running at least 5-to-1 against from my district, and I share the same district as Rep. Clow,” said Rep. Greg Lanting (R-Twin Falls) in discussing feedback on vouchers from his constituents.

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