After a long hearing and much debate, a divided House Revenue & Taxation Committee has approved HB 507, legislation from Sen. Bob Nonini and Rep. John Vander Woude to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships to send students to private schools. The idea is that by enticing Idaho students to switch from public to private schools, the state would save money. But opponents – including all three major education stakeholder groups in the state – questioned that assumption and opposed the bill.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said the bill also may be unconstitutional, conflicting with the Idaho Constitution’s strict prohibition on spending state money for sectarian purposes. “I think the Attorney General’s opinion is very clear - we are taking a risk here if we pass this legislation,” he said. “In my estimation, this is no time for us to be taking a risk with the amount of money the state of Idaho has available to fund education.”
Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, spoke out in favor of the bill. “For me, this is about school choice,” he said, “and it’s about school choice for a very small number of kids.” He said Idaho’s schools could easily handle the loss of several hundred students due to the bill. “I’m assuming that we have at least that much if not more seasonally … and just population changes,” he said. “I think the public schools are positioned very well to handle this.”
Similar legislation failed last year. This year’s version would allow a tax credit for 50 percent of the donation, while keeping the same $10 million cap on the credits; last year’s bill allowed a tax credit for 100 percent of the donation. Donors also could deduct their full donation from their state income for tax purposes, for a double benefit.