Every Idaho child deserves an education that prepares them for career opportunities and helps them succeed. It’s a fundamental promise to our children, enshrined in our state constitution. This promise is once again under threat from a dangerous agenda that seeks to divert your tax dollars away from our public schools and into the hands of private and religious schools through voucher schemes.
Last legislative session, parents, teachers, and community leaders came together to speak out against vouchers, which are deeply unpopular among Idaho voters according to a recent poll commissioned by the Idaho Education Association. Idaho held the line as other states fell to the pressure of the voucher lobby. In the House Education Committee, Democratic votes prevented legislation from advancing, but the threat remains.
Proponents of vouchers spare no expense when it comes to buying our elections and pressuring legislators. These out-of-state activists with deep pockets have flooded our political landscape, running baseless attack ads against leaders who support public education, propping up the most far-right extreme candidates, and building an army of lobbyists-for-hire.
In the face of defeat, the anti-public education lobby has come up with a new tactic, which is to bypass the House Education Committee that rejected vouchers. They plan to push vouchers via our tax code and force the bill through the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. But tax code vouchers bring the same problems: huge costs to the state with zero accountability. The primary beneficiaries of tax credit vouchers would be wealthy families with kids in private schools who will enjoy a cash subsidy paid by taxpayers. Rural families are unlikely to have private school “options.” What they will see is that their public schools receive fewer resources. Across the state, middle-class families and those who work paycheck-to-paycheck won’t be able to close the gap between the voucher credit and private tuition.
Other states illustrate the damaging consequences of these schemes. In Wisconsin, vouchers blew a hole in the state’s budget, forcing homeowners to shoulder a $577 million property tax hike. In Arizona, vouchers will cost the state $900 million this year while rural schools are shuttering. Between 75% and 90% of voucher users in states like Arizona, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin were already in private schools, forcing taxpayers to subsidize wealthy families. Voucher schemes also cause pandemic-sized drops in student outcomes – proving they will only hurt student success.
We must speak out during the 2024 session to defeat these schemes. Idaho Democrats remain committed to ensuring that all kids have the opportunity to receive an excellent education. This can only happen within the framework of strong, well-funded public schools that are accountable to Idahoans.
Together, we will protect our children and our shared future.
Idaho Democratic Party Chair