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Reclaim Idaho prepares for legislative battle over school vouchers

Luke Mayville, Medicaid for Idaho, Idahoans for Healthcare, Proposition 2
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Luke Mayville, a co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, seen in a 2018 file photo.

Reclaim Idaho, the group behind a recent ballot initiative to boost education funding, is launching a new awareness campaign to fight against school vouchers this upcoming legislative session.

A voucher system takes money the state would spend on a child at a public school and allows parents to instead use that cash for private school tuition, tutoring or homeschooling materials.

Reclaim Idaho and its network of volunteers spent months gathering signatures to qualify its initiative for the ballot and were eventually successful. But state legislators circumvented that effort in September by setting aside $330 million for K-12 education during a one-day special session.

That money hasn’t been allocated, though. That will be up to the incoming class of lawmakers – nearly half of which are either new faces or those who moved from the House to the Senate.

During an organizing call Wednesday night, Luke Mayville, one of the group’s co-founders, told organizers what he fears a voucher system would bring.

“It would do damage to our public school system,” said Mayville. “It would weaken our public school system in ways that we might never reverse.”

Arizona Republicans passed the nation’s first universal school voucher program earlier this year, which equates to about $7,000 per child annually.

Many of the newly incoming lawmakers have publicly supported vouchers, despite an Idaho Statesman poll showing 63% of residents opposing such a program.

Idaho’s Constitution requires lawmakers “to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

Supporters of vouchers often refer to such efforts under the banner of “education freedom” or “education choice,” arguing taxpayer money should follow the student and whatever decisions their parents make.

Earlier this year, House lawmakers introduced a bill that would've created such a voucher system, though it failed to pass out of committee. If approved, it would've spent about $6,000 per eligible student.

According to Idaho Department of Education data from November 2021, 20 counties in the state – largely rural with few people living there – did not have a private school within their boundaries.

Mayville said those counties would be hit particularly hard by a voucher system due to inherently having fewer students. Families wanting to use a voucher in those counties also wouldn’t have equal opportunities as students in bigger cities like Boise, Coeur d’Alene or Idaho Falls where there are more choices for private schools he said.

Over the next few months, Mayville plans to hold door-knocking campaigns and open forums in those counties to raise support for his side.

“We want there to be at least hundreds of people willing to testify [in legislative committees,” he said. “We want thousands of people who are willing to make phone calls. We want thousands of people who are willing to send emails.”

Lawmakers will gavel into session Jan. 9.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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