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Idaho House committee kills private school tax credit

A child in a classroom using an iPad.
Flickr Creative Commons
State lawmakers killed a bill Tuesday that would've offered parents a tax credit for sending their children to private school.

An effort to reimburse parents who send their kids to private schools through a tax credit is dead for now.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee narrowly killed the bill Tuesday morning, which would’ve capped the annual amount at $50 million.

“In a recession, it’s a very real possibility that public education will suffer, but the tax credit will go on without adjustment,” said Rep. Jerald Raymond (R-Menan).

Under the proposal, parents could’ve received $5,000 per child in tax credits, or $7,500 per child with special needs, to help offset private school tuition.

Republican Rep. Wendy Horman (R-Idaho Falls), who sponsored the bill, said public schools don’t meet the needs of every student, including those whose parents can’t afford to live in desirable districts.

“This bill gives us a fighting chance at disconnecting income and wealth and housing from academic achievement,” Horman said.

The committee chairman, Rep. David Cannon (R-Blackfoot), didn’t allow the public to testify remotely – a practice that’s been common in nearly every other committee.

Those who were able to attend in-person had mixed opinions.

Multiple lobbyists from out-of-state urged committee members to send the bill to the House floor. They said it’s too important of an issue to not bring before all 70 state representatives.

Parents who currently send their children to private school said a tax credit could make the difference in being able to continue paying for a private education.

“As of now, the tuition we pay is almost 20% of our income and, at some point, we fear being priced out of the education we so love for our kids,” said Richard Lawton, a father from Eagle whose children attend Cole Valley Christian School.

Robert Sanchez, a vice president with Idaho Business for Education, said he anticipates most people who would apply for such a tax credit would already be sending their kids to private school.

“This would have the effect of forcing Idaho taxpayers to fund a new and private school system,” Sanchez said.

Data from states that have similar tax credit or school voucher systems bears that out.

A study from the Grand Canyon Institute in Arizona found 45% of the state’s universal voucher program recipients live in zip codes where the median household income is $80,000 or higher.

The study also found 80% of applicants were already attending private school, being homeschooled or were just entering school.

An Ohio study found a significant drop in the number of low-income families using that state’s most popular voucher program over the past decade from 32% to 15%.

House Minority Caucus Chair Ned Burns (D-Bellevue) said the price tag is also tough to swallow as the legislature is set to adjourn later this month.

“I am not sure we’ve got an extra $50 million laying around that we can afford to put into this program,” Burns said.

Supporters could still introduce a new version of the bill before adjournment.

Copyright 2024 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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