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Idaho Freedom Caucus releases draft 'school choice' legislation

The proposed legislation aims divide nearly $20 million equally to Idaho's K-12 students and push 80% of the funds toward the school each student chooses to attend.

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Freedom Caucus - consisting of 12 conservative Idaho lawmakers - released their proposal of draft legislation to outline a school choice program in the state of Idaho.

The draft proposes the establishment of a "freedom in educations savings accounts" (FESA). The Idaho State Legislature would fund the program through the allocation of state dollars. The Freedom Caucus estimates the first-year cost to fund FESA would settle at $19.4 million.

The sum of the FESA program would equally divide dollars among the state's K-12 student population; 20% of the funds would go directly to each student locally assigned school district while 80% of funds would go to the school of that student's choice.

The Freedom Caucus estimates the 80% figure to settle around $5,950. These funds can be used for homeschooling or to subsidize tuition at a private or religious school.

"This chapter does not permit any government agency to exercise control or supervision over any nonpublic school or homeschooling," according to the draft.

Distributing public dollars to private or religious schools is illegal in Idaho under the Idaho State Constitution's Blaine Amendment.

"It is a prohibition that has been around since the late 1800's on any public dollars going to education in private and specifically religious schools," Education non-profit Bluum CEO Terry Ryan said. "People are concerned this takes the publicness out of education."

The United State's Supreme Court struck down Montana's Blaine Amendment in 2020; the majority opinion held the amendment violated the free exercise of religion.

"So you're seeing more energy and efforts directed at encouraging, enabling private school choice to follow children to private schools and religions schools of the such," Ryan said. "Philosophically I support dollars following students to the school of their choice. However, I do think there should be some strings attached to the performance for these dollars and that is not in this legislation."

Ryan further details his concerns regarding the logic behind this draft. hE believes the lack of enforced accountability on private schools receiving public dollars doesn't add up.

"What's interesting and ironic with the side that is pushing this is that they're bashing the public schools because of low test scores and low graduation rates. And they're saying, 'Let’s give money to families to opt out, then we won’t worry if they're learning anything in the school of choice they're going to.' There is parent choice, but there are also taxpayers," Ryan said. "If this legislation is signed into law, the first thing that's gonna happen is a lawsuit directed at it. That's what's happened in Kentucky. That's what's happened in West Virginia. I think that's what's gonna happen in Iowa. So, this will be litigated."

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