Just because you vote against a bill doesn’t mean it’s a vote against an issue. We’re finding out just how true that is when it comes to school funding in this legislative session.
Just this week, Senate Bill 1038 covering a proposed education savings account died Monday afternoon. After more than two hours of debate, it was rejected by a 12-23 vote.
The measure would have established a universal ESA program with $5,950 scholarships to students who are homeschooled or attend non-public schools, providing money for private school tuition and fees, uniforms, textbooks and other education-related needs.
The goal is familiar in this legislative session: expand school choice for Idaho students.
Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, who presented the bill with Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, said the bill would cost $45 million in its first year. Opponents didn’t like that cost, also expressing concern about a lack of accountablity.
“It’s actually against my conservative Republican perspective to hand this money out with no accountability that these precious tax dollars are being used wisely, or that they’re actually going to increase the goodwill of the students of Idaho,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls.
The Idaho Education Association called the bill’s defeat “a significant win for public education.” A statement from Reclaim Idaho said, “This is a huge victory for Idaho that was made possible by the thousands of Idahoans across the state who took a stand for our public schools and said NO to vouchers.”
As for the reaction from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, there was this: “Now we know how far we need to go in making Idaho a truly conservative state.”
But hold the phone. There was more to come as the week progressed.
Sadie Dittenber from Idaho Education News reported Thursday that another ESA proposal died Thursday morning after a narrow and contentious House Education Committee vote, and two other ESA proposals were pulled by their sponsors before Thursday’s meeting.
Draft legislation sponsored by Rep. Lance Crow, R-Twin Falls, would have allowed an estimated 2,000 low-income students to pay for tuition at accredited private schools at an annual cost of $17.5 million. That proposal failed in committee, 9-7.
Dittenber reported that Thursday’s agenda originally scheduled introduction hearings on three competing drafts of ESA legislation including Clow’s, one from Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and a third from Rep. Jaron Crane, R-Nampa. Before the meeting started, Horman and Crane pulled their drafts.
Two words have accurately described the debate so far over ESA legislation in Idaho: Political theater.
Let’s call this for what it is: the latest scheme to pull money away from public schools under the guise of “school choice.” The kind of issue that prompted conservatives such as those from the IFF to brand Republican Gov. Brad Little as something along the lines of a flaming liberal.
It’s a voucher system, one that pulls money away from public schools and further damages rural schools, hurting disadvantaged or special needs students much more than it helps them.
Bonneville Joint School District 93 Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme is correct when he points out that there is no evidence to show that a voucher system is what the majority of Idaho citizens want.
We believe Idaho voters showed what they want in the November election when they strongly supported directing $330 million a year to K-12 public schools in the November election — emphasis on public schools. We don’t recall any mention of pulling money away through school vouchers in there. Yet legislators seem to be twisting themselves into knots arguing about vouchers.
What a waste.
In a Post Register report Friday, Geoff Thomas, an assistant professor at Idaho State University, called the voucher system “a dagger to the heart of public education.” Thomas spent four decades in public schools, including 23 as a district superintendent, and retired as the superintendent of the Madison School District.
In an area where rural schools are so predominant, it’s baffling as to why there seems to be such a need to push for vouchers when it’s the rural public schools that are hurt the most by that very thing.
Time is running out in this legislative session. It’s time for the state’s lawmakers to start paying more attention to other more pressing needs instead of wasting so much of it on “political theater.”
Welcome to the discussion.
Stay relevant, be civil, re-read and re-think before you submit.