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Idaho already has ample educational choice options

Press-Tribune Editorial board
March 27, 2013
Idaho Press-Tribune

School choice is a good thing. Some kids thrive in nonconventional learning environments.

The good news for those students is that charter schools - which are also public schools because they are part of the public education system - provide multiple educational options for parents, all courtesy of the Idaho taxpayer.

Parents who want to provide a religious-based education have additional options in the form of private schools. Of course, parents have to pay tuition to send their kids to private religious schools.

A misguided, back-door attempt by some Idaho lawmakers would have essentially used public funding to pay for Idaho kids to attend private religious schools. Its death in the Senate was the proper fate.

Still, House Bill 286 passed by a razor-thin 35-33 margin in the House last week, and Canyon County's representatives were split. Reps. Robert Anderst and Rick Youngblood of Nampa and Gayle Batt of Wilder voted yes, while Darrell Bolz and Brandon Hixon of Caldwell voted no. It would have allowed people to donate to private school scholarships and deduct those donations from their Idaho taxes.

The result: Less money going into the state's general fund and, in essence, transferring it to religious schools.

Supporters say that, with more students going to those private schools, public education wouldn't need as much money. But even if you buy that shaky argument, there's another big problem: the Idaho Constitution, which says, "Neither the Legislature nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian or religious society."

Granting tax breaks for religious education would have a hard time standing up to a legal challenge. That's why so many Republicans voted against it. It's not that they're opposed to school choice or religious education, but they understand the basic concept that taxpayer money should be funneled to religious schools.

This isn't comparable to vouchers, where parents can opt out of traditional public schools in favor of private, secular ones. In some states there are both secular and religious private schools, but in Idaho, virtually all private schools are religious in nature.

If people want to donate their money to help families attend religious schools, that's great. But it shouldn't be tax-deductible.

And it's not reasonable to expect taxpayers to prop up religious schools when times are tough. We don't do that to private businesses, so why should we do it for private schools? Let the marketplace decide, right?

House Bill 286 was unnecessary because of the school choice that already exists with the charter school option, and it was a bad idea because we think it was unconstitutional.

* Our view is based on the majority opinions of the Idaho Press-Tribune editorial board. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison, Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook, Opinion Editor Phil Bridges and community members Maria Radovich, Kenton Lee, Rich Cartney, Megan Harrison and Kelly Gibbons.

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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