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Idaho Senate Republicans reject school voucher bill for concerns of cost, accountability

Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, listens to information on a bill sponsored by Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, on Feb. 14 at the Capitol in downtown Boise. Senate Republicans on Monday rejected the proposal to create education savings accounts in Idaho. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Senate Republicans rejected a bill that would have allowed private school families to claim public education funds.
The bill, from Sens. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, and Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, would have created education savings accounts, a voucher-like mechanism that allows families with private school and home-schooled students to draw state funding for tuition, uniforms, tutoring and other education expenses.
Most Senate Republicans opposed the bill. Many said they support education savings accounts but believed the legislation has too many uncertainties, including how much it would cost.
“I have absolutely no clue what the dollar amount is on this,” said Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle.
The legislation would have allowed families to collect about $6,000 annually for private school or home-school expenses. The sponsors touted the legislation as a way to help low-income families afford private education, but the proposal did not include income limits, as voucher programs in other states have.
“This historic bill will expand choice for all students. It’ll ease capacity and cost concerns and protect current home-school and private school interests,” Nichols told the full Senate on Monday. “Most importantly, it will empower families.”
The bill sponsors estimated it would cost the state about $45 million in the first year to fund about 6,600 students. A recent analysis by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, a nonpartisan research group, estimated enrollment among private- and home-schoolers would climb in the second year.
Using enrollment rates from similar programs in Florida and Arizona, the Center for Fiscal Policy estimated the cost of the Idaho program would be eight times higher, about $363 million, in its second year and beyond. The number of students receiving the funds likely would jump from 6,600 to more than 60,000, the analysis found.
Idaho’s teachers union and groups representing school boards, administrators and rural schools opposed the bill during a public hearing that stretched over two days earlier this month.
Those opposed said they were concerned the voucher program would siphon limited public school funds. They also said the proposal lacked accountability for a significant amount of taxpayer money. The bill says that it would not grant a government agency authority over private schools.
“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,” said Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls.
The post Idaho Senate Republicans reject school voucher bill for concerns of cost, accountability appeared first on East Idaho News.

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