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House passes private school tuition tax credit legislation

House passes private school tuition tax credit legislation

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 20, 2013
[post_thumbnail]Rep. John Vander Woude, left, debates on House Floor.

The Idaho House Wednesday narrowly passed legislation that would extend tax credits to Idahoans who make donations to state-sanctioned “scholarship granting organizations.” The scholarships would in turn be granted to eligible children to enable them to attend private schools within the state, and the donors would receive a dollar-for-dollar credit against their annual state income tax bill.

The vote was 35-32, with the bill now heading to the Senate for consideration.

“This would provide a positive fiscal impact to local school districts, and to our state budget,” said Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, as he presented House Bill 286. “Estimates are that these tax credits would reduce the burden on public schools and would save the state about $3 million a year.”

The bill would allow for up to $10 million worth of credits to be extended each year. While donations would be made to state-authorized tuition granting institutions, and the institutions would then award the scholarships to eligible kids and parents, the scholarships could be used at both secular and religious private schools.

“I have a great deal of difficulty seeing how the bill actually produces any savings,” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, commented during debate on the House floor, noting that “removing a small portion of students from public school classrooms does not reduce operational costs of our schools.”

“When we heard this in committee, the spokesperson from the Idaho Education Association stated to us that the IEA does not oppose school choice,” Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, said from the floor. “That’s precisely what this bill is about, school choice. I urge a ‘yes’ vote for school choice.”

But Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, expressed a different view of what constitutes school choice. “A lot of the states that have programs like this have really dilapidated schools and kids need to get out of them,” she said. “Our schools aren’t like that, and we already have choice, and it’s called charter schools.”

Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, raised concerns about the fact that the bill would allow scholarship funds to be spent on religious private schools, noting that the Idaho Constitution forbids government funding of religious institutions.

“It’s important to note that similar programs like the one proposed here have been shown to be constitutional,” responded Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls. “The state of Arizona, for example, put a program like this in place many years ago and it was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit recognized that a program like this does not take money out of government accounts and place it in to religious institutions, but rather, it allows private individuals to re-direct a portion of their own money. This is constitutional, and I urge a ‘yes’ vote.”

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