BOISE – An Idaho Senate committee has killed legislation to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for donations for scholarships to private schools, a plan Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini pitched as a way to save the state millions by encouraging children to leave Idaho’s public schools.
“This is not a voucher, this is a credit – there is a distinct difference,” Nonini told the Senate tax committee. “It will save the state money.” He estimated that between the state and local school districts, the $10 million tax credit would result in $5.8 million a year in savings and divert more than 2,600 children from public to private schools.
Others said the public schools wouldn’t save any money if a student or two per class left, noting the Idaho Constitution requires that the Legislature fund public schools and bans any funding for religious schools.
The bill, HB 286, had earlier passed the House, but narrowly – the vote was 35-33, with two House members absent.
Chris Finch, principal of Genesis Preparatory Academy in Post Falls, urged the Senate committee to approve the bill. His school has 140 students. “The impact of this legislation would be tremendous,” he said. “I continually have to turn away families that just aren’t able to pay the full price of tuition.”
Phil Homer, representing both the Idaho Association of School Administrators and the Idaho School Boards Association, told the panel, “Every dollar that’s diverted from that revenue stream hurts the opportunity for us to take a portion of that dollar and apply it to the education of our students in the public schools. Therefore we cannot support this bill.”
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I do think it’s a good piece of legislation. I do think it helps out low-income people to have an opportunity for choice that others have.” He moved to pass the bill, but only one other senator on the committee, Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, supported his motion and the bill died on a 7-2 vote.
This is the second straight year Nonini has unsuccessfully pushed for the tax credit bill; last year, the former four-term GOP representative was chairman of the House Education Committee. This year, he was elected to the Senate.