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Advocates advance constitutional amendment to boost school choice

Advocates advance constitutional amendment to boost school choice

Dustin Hurst
January 29, 2016

Hundreds of kids rallied on the Idaho Capitol steps this week to show lawmakers there’s significant support for educational choice in the state.

Activists behind the scenes say legislators have a huge opportunity this year to advance the issue in the Legislature.

Briana LeClaire, leader of the Idaho Federation of Independent Schools, told IdahoReporter.com Wednesday that legislators should pass a proposal that could eventually lead to taxpayer funding for private schools, including religious institutions.

That proposal is the brainchild of Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg. Earlier this week he successfully introduced the plan, which will receive a full hearing in the next few legislative days.

Nate’s proposal is simple: Allow the education money Idaho expends per student to follow a pupil to whatever school she’d like.

The Rexburg Republican’s plan isn’t a simple bill, but rather a proposal to amend the Idaho Constitution, which prohibits sending taxpayer funds to religious schools. If his plan clears the House and Senate, voters would have the opportunity to approve it in November.

Critics quickly demonized the plan. The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho suggested Nate’s proposal violates the idea of separation of church and state.

LeClaire and Nate disagree. Both pointed out in separate IdahoReporter.com interviews that Idaho already funds dual high school enrollment at religious schools, including Rexburg’s Brigham Young University-Idaho and Nampa’s Northwest Nazarene University.

Nate’s plan, she said, would patch a fragmented system. “It’s an inconsistency we need to fix,” LeClaire said of the proposal to allow students to freely spend tax dollars at the schools of their choice, including religious schools.

To answer critics, Nate pointed to Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the state of Ohio’s ability to send public funds to religious schools.

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