Here are the facts that Idaho school voucher supporters don’t want you to know | Opinion

Sarah A. Miller/

The Idaho Senate Education Committee on Tuesday agreed to print a bill that would bring school vouchers to Idaho.

Idaho Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, introduced the bill, the “Freedom In Education Savings Accounts,” which would allow Idaho families to collect taxpayer dollars to use for private school tuition. It’s cut-and-paste legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council.

If approved, Idaho wouldn’t be the first state to have vouchers. Other states, such as Wisconsin, Indiana and Arizona, have had vouchers for several years. Utah legislators are considering a school voucher system.

“This legislation has been modeled after Arizona, with 10 years of experience and is considered the gold standard being used by most other states,” Nichols said in introducing her bill.

So let’s take a look at Arizona’s experience to see what’s in store for Idaho if this bill becomes law.

In November, the Grand Canyon Institute analyzed the zip code distribution of applications for Arizona’s new universal Empowerment Scholarship Account voucher program. The centrist think tank found:

High-income zip codes are overrepresented in voucher applications, and low-income zip codes are underrepresented. While only 11% of Arizona’s students live in zip codes with median incomes of more than $100,000, those students made up nearly 20% of the voucher applicants. Meanwhile, more than half of Arizona’s students live in zip codes with median incomes less than $60,000, but those students made up only 32% of the applicants.

Nearly half (45%) of the applicants came from the wealthiest quarter of students in the state, living in zip codes where the median household income is $80,000 or more.

80% of the applicants were not in public school, meaning these students were already attending private schools, being home schooled or are just entering schooling — not being “rescued” from a “failing” school.

Only 3.5% of all applicants came from zip codes that qualified for the earlier version of school vouchers that sought to help kids living in failing districts.

Arizona is unable to measure academic impacts of the voucher program because there were no accountability measures in the legislation.

A school voucher is worth $7,000, but the average private school tuition is over $10,000.

Private schools can accept or reject students as they choose.

Total private school subsidies in Arizona have now reached $600 million.

Indiana has had similar concerning results with its expanded voucher program. Since Indiana expanded its voucher program in 2011, most vouchers simply have gone to students already enrolled, according to Chris Lagoni, executive director of the Indiana Small and Rural Schools Association.

Of the 44,376 students enrolled in private schools and using vouchers in Indiana, only 421 of those students had moved from a failing public school, putting a big hole in the argument that vouchers are there to “save” children from terrible schools.

Like Arizona, the cost of Indiana’s school voucher program has grown considerably, from a modest $20 million in 2011 to more than $300 million today.

And even though Indiana’s education budget has grown to $8.2 billion, per pupil funding for students in public schools is still below pre-recession levels.

Interesting to note that some of the reasons Nichols cited for the need for school vouchers are inflicted by far-right legislators like Nichols: “declining test scores, overcrowding, students not meeting grade-level benchmarks, bullying, teacher wages, staffing shortages, curriculum issues, indoctrination, and the list goes on,” she said.

At least three of those reasons — overcrowding, teacher wages and staffing shortages — are direct results of underfunding public education, and perhaps more students would meet grade-level benchmarks, such as third-grade reading, if Nichols hadn’t led the charge to kill a $6 million early childhood literacy grant two years ago.

If school voucher advocates are not willing to discuss the negative impacts of school vouchers or come up with solutions to avoid these problems, then we know that this is not a serious proposal, rather an exercise in ideological pandering.

Idaho is doomed to make the same mistakes other states have made if the Republican supermajority rams through vouchers.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community member Maryanne Jordan.