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Idaho Senate votes to cover private school tuition for students

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

A bill that would cover up to $12 million in private school tuition for Idaho children cleared a major legislative hurdle Thursday, with state senators passing the proposal 19-15.

Up to 2,000 students could enroll in the program, which would prioritize lower income families first. It would pay $6,000 a year towards private school tuition.

Sen. Cindy Carlson (R-Riggins) said families who choose not to enroll in public school are being left by the wayside.

“Idaho is not paying for these individuals that are not in public schools, so I believe the Constitution asks us to educate all kids,” Carlson said.

The Idaho Constitution doesn’t say that. It directs the legislature to “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.

A study last year found Idaho’s public schools have maintenance backlogs totaling at least $874 million, which Sen. Rick Just (D-Boise) said should take priority.

“This doesn’t help that,” said Just. “This removes funding from public education and with little or no accountability.”

His latter point was repeated by several Republicans who voiced opposition to the bill.

Private schools aren’t required to release their curriculum nor standardized test scores to demonstrate students are achieving competency.

“There is no better accountability than the parents’ choice of what is best for their children,” said Sen. Ben Toews (R-Coeur d’Alene).

The money would be in addition to the $30 million requested by Gov. Brad Little to make permanent his Empowering Parents grants program. That initiative lets parents who qualify buy laptops, homeschooling curriculum or pay for tutoring for their children.

Students receiving a tuition grant would not be eligible for the other aspect of Empowering Parents or vice versa.

The bill passed the Senate 19-15, which isn’t enough to override a veto if Little chooses to issue one.

It still needs approval from the House before it gets to his desk.

Correction: This story initially said the $12 million to fund tuition grants would come out of Gov. Brad Little's requested $30 million to make permanent the Empowering Parents grants program. A prior discussion of the proposal had carved out that money, but it's since changed to a different funding model. The story has been changed to reflect the money would be an additional state expense.

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

Copyright 2023 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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