School Choice Gains Momentum in Idaho

For the first time in state history, the Idaho House of Representatives passed a scholarship tax credit (STC) bill. Like the bill that the Alabama legislature passed last month, Idaho’s STC legislation is a step in the right direction though it has some limitations.

The Idaho bill would grant tax credits to individuals and corporations in return for donations to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations (SGOs). The SGOs would fund low- and middle-income students attending nonpublic schools. To be eligible to participate, a family’s household income could not exceed 150% of the federal free-and-reduced lunch program’s income threshold ($63,964 for a family of four). According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, that would cover about 59% of Idahoans. The program is limited to students who attended a public school in the previous year or are entering kindergarten or first grade.

The program would be capped at $10 million per year. While the cap would adjust for inflation, there is no “escalator” provision to grow the program over time to meet demand, as in Arizona, Florida, and New Hampshire.

The program would also require participating private schools to administer standardized tests. This is an unnecessary provision that’s intended to provide accountability but could exacerbate the “teach to the test” problem. The most effective form of accountability is the chosen schools’ direct relationship with parents who can choose to leave if their kids’ needs are not met. Most STC programs do not require schools to administer standardized tests, yet many schools voluntarily administer them because parents desire it. However, when the state mandates testing to participate in school choice programs, there are fewer choices available to parents who want to avoid the “teach to the test” issue.

Despite the bill’s limitations, the Idaho House of Representatives just took the Gem State one step closer to having an education system that empowers families to choose the education that best meets their kids’ individual needs.