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Eye On Boise

Wed., March 20, 2013, 10:33 a.m.

House debates tax credits for private school scholarships…

The House is now debating HB 286, the bill to give $10 million in tax credits for donations to scholarships to send Idaho kids to private schools, with the idea that the state would save millions if kids dropped out of public schools to enroll in private schools instead. Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, told the House that his children attend private schools. “This levels the playing field and it’s a great step in the right direction,” he said.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, countered, “I think the issue is not whether private schools are good for children in this state, because they are. I think the issue is this is policy that siphons money away from public and charter schools to be used for private schools. … We don’t give tax credits to adults who have no children, nor should we be giving tuition tax credits to those who have chosen an alternative to public education. It is their right and their choice, but the state should not subsidize that choice. We do not have enough money for public schools and public charter schools right now.”

Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said, "A third of our counties don't even have private schools. It doesn't add up to me." He said, "Private schools should not benefit from taxpayer money, and our Constitution demonstrates that." Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, "The attorney general has stated ... it would vigorously defend this bill if it became law, under the provision that it would not be a transfer of state funds and therefore would not be in violation of the Constitution."

Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, called opposition to the bill “reverse discrimination,” and said, “It’s education, no matter how you look at it. … It’s education. That’s what’s of great interest to this Legislature, it’s educating our children. ... I know from cases I’m aware of that it’s very helpful for some students to be able to go to … other than a public school.”

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, questioned how the bill would work; one big donor could use up the whole $10 million limit on tax credits, he said. "It's just very confusing and cumbersome in terms of process."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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