[post_thumbnail] Sen. Bob Nonini testifies in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
The House Revenue and Taxation Committee, on a 12-4 vote, Friday advanced legislation that would extend tax credits to Idahoans who make donations to scholarship granting organizations. The scholarships would 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.
"This is a huge opportunity for kids," said Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, as he presented House Bill 286 to the committee. "I think if this became law, I think you would see a positive response."
As written, 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.
Nonini told the committee that he had sought a legal opinion of the bill from the state attorney general's office. According to him, the attorney general anticipates that the granting of tuition scholarships to religious schools will likely draw lawsuits, but that the state is prepared to defend the bill in court. "Some 16 other states have already acted on this," Nonini stated.
"This may or may not be constitutional," commented Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. "I'm not sure. But I do know that our destiny is with our public schools."
"The Idaho Education Association (IEA) supports school choice, but that's not what this bill is about" said Paul Stark, a legal representative for the state's largest teacher union. "The issue here is really is it pays for private and often times sectarian schools."
Nonini told the committee that Idaho public schools would incur a cost savings because of an anticipated decline in enrollment and fewer students to serve. He estimates that approximately 2,600 Idaho public school students would, in the short run, transfer into private schools with the availability of the scholarships.
"This is very simple for us," noted Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. "This is good public policy, this is good tax policy, this is good education policy. What it does is it opens up the marketplace and allows for people who are not getting the education that they need in the public education system. It allows them to get that opportunity in a private setting."
"I often hear from my friends at the IEA that they support charter schools, but they have consistently opposed bills that would have helped charter schools," said Jane Wittmeyer, from the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families. "Now they are saying that this bill will hurt charter schools, but that's not true. Charter schools have waiting lists of students that want to enroll, and our organization supports this bill. It gives families yet another choice."
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
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