By Steve Gunn
BOISE, Idaho – School reform may not be dead in Idaho, after all.
Not quite a month after voters soundly rejected Gov. Butch Otter’s extensive “Students Come First” education reform plan, state legislators are preparing to consider legislation that would offer state tax breaks to individuals or companies that contribute money to a scholarship fund that would help students attend private or parochial schools.
A similar proposal died in the legislature in the final weeks of the 2012 session. A newly-crafted proposal is expected to be introduced in 2013, according to an Associated Press report.
Based on the initial reaction of several legislators, the effort could face an uphill battle.
While the plan would not directly create state vouchers for private schools, like programs in Indiana, Wisconsin and Louisiana, it would create a state fund that would accomplish the same goal.
Proponents argue that children from lower-income families should have the same opportunities to receive outstanding private school instruction as their wealthier peers.
As Wayne Hoffman, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, put it, “There are a lot of children in Idaho attending private school. For many children that option is simply out of reach to them, because of the cost. This could be a breakthrough for children, whether they have financial means or not.”
One key lawmaker questioned whether the proposal would be constitutional, since it would sacrifice state revenue in the form of tax breaks, and some of the resulting donations to the scholarship fund would go toward tuition at private schools.
“You’re putting money that would be paid into the coffers of the state of Idaho into the hands of private institutions,” Republican state Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, was quoted as saying. “You can do workaround to the constitution all you want, but at some point, you destroy the soul of that document.”