The state could lose at least $6 million in general funds if Idaho voters pass a proposed “school-choice” initiative in 1996.
The Idaho Citizens Alliance proposal would give a $1,000-per-child tax credit to families with children in private or home schools. Private-school enrollment in Idaho was 3,020 for the 1994-95 school year.
The group Idaho Home Educators estimates 3,000 children are schooled at home, but the figure could be higher. Neither home-school associations nor the state Department of Education keeps track of them.
Total public school enrollment for the 1994-95 school year is 240,448.
“A little competition never hurt anybody,” alliance chairman Kelly Walton said Thursday. “There are zero strings attached (to the tax credit). It’s the parents’ tax dollars that they earned. It wasn’t the government’s in the first place.”
The alliance could file the initiative in early May, Walton said.
Walton acknowledged the hubbub surrounding school tax credits would make passage “an uphill battle. School choice would be three or four election cycles (before it might pass).”
A puny bank account could hurt the alliance’s plans. The group currently has about $1,500 with which to start the tax-credit initiative and to make another run at its measure to prevent homosexuals from seeking discrimination protection based on sexual orientation. It failed in last November’s election.
A tax credit reduces the amount of tax owed. Vouchers would give parents state tax dollars to apply toward tuition at the private school they chose.
Iowa and Minnesota are the only states with such credits. Minnesota gives a credit for kids in public and private schools.
The proposed credit generally wouldn’t cover private-school costs.
Walton argues the state ultimately would save money by giving tax credits.
He said the state paid, on average, more than $4,000 annually to educate a child. He reasons the $1,000 credit would entice some parents to send their kids to private school, thus saving the state $3,000.
The cost to educate an Idaho child this year actually was $3,618, said Ron Pollock, state Department of Education finance director.
He said a tax credit was only a savings if the kids were in the public schools now and left for private schooling. But more than 6,000 already are outside the public system. The $6 million in credits their parents would receive would need to be made up in the budget somehow, he said.
The Legislature and the governor could decide not to let the $6 million come out of the schools’ budget.
No state uses vouchers. Efforts to approve them have flopped resoundingly, said Kathy Christie of the Education Commission of the States, a Denver-based education policy center.
“Many times there appears to be a great deal of public support,” she said. “In every instance, that public support waned, so those lost big time.”