(The Center Square) – A bill providing educational savings accounts for school choice failed last year to gain traction in the Idaho Legislature. Boise State University’s Eighth Annual Public Policy Survey indicates that might change in 2024.
Idaho spends about $8,000 per student on K-12 education. The question posed by BSU to a representative sample of Idaho voters asked “would you favor or oppose a school choice plan to allow Idaho parents to take that $8,000 out of the public school system and use it to enroll their child in a charter, private or religious school?”
According to Jason Mercier of the Mountain States Policy Center, the wording of the survey question made a difference.
“This is National Education Choice Week,” said Mercier. “Most conservative states have been making progress on school choice, but even with a conservative legislature the effort failed last session because opponents called them vouchers.”
In 2023, Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Canyon County, introduced Senate Bill 1038 to establish Freedom in Education Savings Accounts. It failed in part due to questions of accountability for spending taxpayer money.
In a voucher system, according to Mercier, the state sends funds directly to an institution and that approach was demonized as “cutting checks to private rich schools.” This year’s bill is a refundable tax credit to parents who choose education options other than enrolling their child in a traditional taxpayer supported public school, “letting the money follow the student,” said Mercier.
Among the policy areas included in the BSU survey, education was identified as Idahoan’s top legislative priority, with an emphasis on core academic content. Idaho scored 236 on the National Report Card statistics for 2022. A score of 235 out of 500 is the national public school average, Montana was rated as “performed significantly higher” than average at 239 while Oregon “performed significantly lower ” at 228. Washington received a grade of 235.
Spending for each state varies. Washington spends an average per pupil of $16,300 compared to Idaho’s $8,000. Oregon and Montana are in the middle at $12,400 and $12,000 per pupil spending.
The BSU study also indicated support for using a projected budget surplus of $1 billion for tax relief to Idahoans, with 40.5% favoring property tax relief. 31.1% supported in one tax relief and 22.3% sales tax relief.