The Idaho House has voted to approve Rep. George Sayler's, D-Coeur D'Alene, bill to allow taxpayers to donate to the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which is used to provide scholarships to students in Idaho with significant need for financial aid.
House members voted 68-0 to pass the legislation, which is now headed to the Senate. If it is passed in that chamber, an emergency clause would allow taxpayers to donate to the fund on their 2009 state tax forms.
There would be no program costs to the state general fund, but the bill would designate that $3,000, or 20 percent of the money donated to the fund, go to the Idaho State Tax Commission for administrative costs. The Tax Commission would also receive $3,000 in funding directly from the scholarship fund for startup costs. Sayler estimates the donation program could generate as much as $72,000 a year for scholarships in Idaho, though he believes it will most likely bring in $50,000 annually. Sayler told lawmakers that he believes the new donation avenue could produce as many as 24 new scholarships for students, though he said he expects about 18 per year to be newly generated and funded.
Taxpayers wishing to donate would have the amount they desire to contribute deducted from their tax refunds. If taxpayers wish to donate but also have a tax burden to pay, they would have the donation amount added to the taxes.
The scholarship reserve was created in 2007 by Gov. Butch Otter to help provide an “educated workforce” for the state, according to the state’s website for the scholarship. The program was initially funded by Otter and the Legislature approving two separate $10 million appropriations, though the goal is to have $100 million in the reserve, which would generate enough interest to provide several scholarships for students in the state.
Students must be a graduate of an Idaho high school, accept all federal grants or scholarships, and be a full-time student meeting academic standards to qualify for aid money from the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship. The website describes the aid as a “last dollars mechanism,” available only after a student meets the above requirements and some type of family or personal contribution to the student’s education has been made.