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Eye On Boise

Nonini: Idaho could save millions if tax credits entice kids to switch from public to private schools

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the House Revenue & Taxation Committee this morning that he believes his bill to provide $10 million a year in tax credits for scholarships to private schools would prompt 2,622 Idaho students to transfer from public to private schools, plus another 465 kindergartners to enroll in private rather than public schools. “That’s a total savings to the state budget of $3.3 million,” Nonini said, saying each child who switches “will accrue a $4,251 savings into the state budget.” The bill, HB 286, would grant the tax credits to corporations or individuals who donate to organizations that provide the scholarships .

He calculated that public schools would get $11 million less in state funding through the average daily attendance formula due to the switch, though that would be offset by an estimated $8 million in tax credits, his calculation for how much of the $10 million is likely to be used.

Rev & Tax members had questions about Nonini’s calculations. “If a school was to lose a handful of students, the building wouldn’t get smaller, the cost to heat the building wouldn’t get smaller, the cost to maintain the parking lot, plow the snow wouldn’t get smaller,” said Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise.

Nonini also presented an attorney general’s opinion he requested, that said the idea “has provoked and likely will continue to provoke substantial litigation,” but said the state would defend the law as constitutional if it were passed. “I can’t control if there’s challenges or not challenges,” Nonini told the committee. “I think the AG’s opinion has covered it quite well.”

Nonini said, “There’s not any state money going into a transfer,” and “both sectarian and non-sectarian schools receive equal treatment.” The Idaho Constitution has strict prohibitions against state funding for religious schools. Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, citing the same attorney general’s opinion, said it also suggests that “the transfer of funds is essentially an artful dodge to allow sort of a shell with respect to support of religious schools.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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