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House Bill 294 — Strong students grant

House Bill 294 — Strong students grant

Anna Miller
March 7, 2021

Bill Description: House Bill 294 creates a new program that gives grants to families to use for their child's educational needs. The program could increase future spending in the general fund by $35 million.

Rating: -2

Amended Analysis: House Bill 294 was amended to remove the Strong Students scholarship program. Consequently, some of the points that were attributable to the positive rating of H 294 are no longer valid in the amended version. 

Does it create, expand, or enlarge any agency, board, program, function, or activity of government? Conversely, does it curtail the size or scope of government?

House Bill 294 would create the Strong Students grant program, which would give families $750 per student to use for educational expenses, such as textbooks, tuition and fees at a private school, computers, therapy, or career technical education. This amount is approximately 10% of what the average public school spends on a per-pupil basis, and it is not enough to enable low-income families to leave a public school for a private school or alternative school that fits their needs. Even with these grants, most low-income students will remain trapped in the public education system. Regardless, this is a new program and therefore an expansion of government. 


The $750 grant may enable a small number of families to leave the public school system and homeschool their children. Therefore this bill may increase competition in the education sector and slightly weaken the monopoly that public schools have on low-income children's education. However, without the scholarship program envisioned in the original bill, the $750 grant would arguably also have the effect of merely expanding the scope of the existing government education system by the addition of a subsidy for qualified students, both public and private. 


Does it increase government spending (for objectionable purposes) or debt? Conversely, does it decrease government spending or debt? 

House Bill 294’s grant program would use $30 million in one-time federal funds and $5 million in ongoing state general funds. This brings its cost to a total of $5 million from the general fund, and $30 million to be found elsewhere in coming years. The state could cut existing spending in the general fund and reallocate $35 million for these programs, or it could increase spending by $35 million in the general fund in coming years. Since public schools do not need to receive funding for students they are not educating, existing education dollars should not stay behind in a public school when a child leaves, as this bill contemplates. 


Does it increase government redistribution of wealth? Conversely, does it decrease government redistribution of wealth? 

The program redistributes $750 per child in federal and general fund dollars to a small group of people who make less than $50k or $75k per year rather than returning existing education tax dollars back to families. This would mean that between two identical children, one would be qualified and the other wouldn’t, simply because of their level of income. In effect, Child A’s family would pay for the program for the benefit of Child B, which is the definition of wealth redistribution.  


Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the United States Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the US Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? 

The grant program would be available to students regardless of the type of education they receive. This includes students at public schools, alternative schools, private schools or homeschools. In light of the 2020 Supreme Court decision known as Espinoza, families cannot be prevented from using tax dollars allocated for educational purposes at private or religious schools, and this legislation recognizes that fact. 


Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency and accountability Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability? 

House Bill 294 would have created a Parent Advisory Panel, which is a group of 7 parents of students who have applied or intend to apply for program funds. Members would serve for one-year terms with the option for successive terms and will represent different regions of Idaho. These parents would have discussed the implementation, execution and results of the programs and make recommendations to the State Board of Education to improve the program. Under House Bill 294, this would have increased government transparency and accountability by giving parents direct oversight of two intertwining,  complicated education programs. However, none of that is necessary in the scaled-down amended version of the bill. The advisory panel appears to be extraneous and would have a marginal impact on the transparency of the remaining portion of the legislation. 


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