School Choice Should Go To the Voters in Idaho
School choice can be granted to Idahoans. However, to pave the way for serious discussions on this issue, the State Constitution must be amended to become ‘UNBIASED’, as it currently holds prejudice against select groups, namely religious schools.
In order to accomplish this, HJR1 was introduced and has dozens of sponsors throughout the House and the Senate. If it were to pass the House and the Senate, it would then have to go to the voters, on the November ballot, for their voices to be heard.
So what is the hold up?
HJR1 does not give school choice by itself, it only allows the discussion to be heard.
The Public school districts, and the Teachers Unions, are opposed to this resolution, as it allows for a pathway to meaningful legislation on school choice.
If parents were allowed choices on their children’s education, the Districts and the Unions are afraid that they would fall short and lose a majority of their funding.
This means that the public schools would have to enter a competition, and raise their standards and results. They would give up the monopoly they are using to strangle Idahoans.
“The survey shows that if money were not an issue, the vast majority of [Idaho] parents would opt out of the regular public schools and send their children to alternatives. Fully 73% would send their children to private school or to a charter school, while only 26% of parents would opt to send them to the regular public schools.” – A 2016 review from the Albertson Family Foundation
Amend the Blaine Amendment
Blaine Amendments are provisions in dozens of state constitutions that prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools. They’re named for James G. Blaine, who proposed such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution while he was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1875.
The amendment passed overwhelmingly (180-7) in the House, but failed (by 4 votes) in the Senate. Although the amendment failed narrowly, state-level versions were wildly successful. And in several states, adoption of Blaine Amendments was made an explicit condition for entering the Union.
Today, 37 states, including Idaho, have provisions placing some form of restriction on government aid to “sectarian” schools and their equivalents that go far beyond any limits in the U.S. Constitution.
The Blaine Amendment itself (not really an amendment, it’s always been in the Idaho Constitution) is an artifact of religious bigotry. It was designed to punish Parochial Schools while protecting Bible-Preaching Protestant schools – known as Common Schools.
Here is a political cartoon from 1875, depicting the Parochial Schools as Catholic crocodiles poised to destroy and eat the common (Protestant, public) schools and the children. A Catholic school marm is being hauled off to the gallows on the hilltop.
See this story about the cartoon here.
Protecting School Choice
Rep. Ron Nate (R-Rexburg) tells us that HJR1 will preserve and protect Idaho programs regarding school choice at all education levels.
Students, regardless of family wealth or income status, should be able to choose the best education opportunities in front of them. The best schools should not be reserved only for students from wealthy and powerful families.
The amendment would clarify that when the state provides education assistance to students to meet these goals, it is not the same thing as the state “establishing religion.”
Currently, dual credit programs and Idaho Opportunity Scholarships allow students to get college credits (with state assistance) at all Idaho universities.
Some students choose BSU, ISU, CSI, etc. But some students also choose to get dual credits at Northwest Nazarene University (over 2000 students) and others use state scholarships at NNU and BYU-Idaho (151 students combined at both church-affiliated schools). Do these programs violate the state constitution? The Idaho Attorney General’s office says they probably do. That’s where HJR 1 comes in.
Article IX, Section 5 (commonly known as the Blaine Amendment) prohibits the State of Idaho or any political subdivisions from spending tax dollars to support churches or church-affiliated schools. It is a wise and reasonable standard.
However, it has been interpreted that assistance to students, who then use the assistance at a church-affiliated school potentially runs afoul of this part of the constitution.
HJR 1 is a Joint Resolution to amend the Idaho Constitution by adding a clarification at the end of Article IX, Section 5. It adds the phrase,
“…nothing [in Section 5] shall be construed to prohibit the legislature or any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation from making appropriations, payments, grants, or donations of public funds or moneys for the purpose of providing grants, scholarships, loans, or other assistance to students or parents of students for educational purposes.”
Here’s what the amendment does:
- Preserves Idaho’s clear separation between church and state.
- Clarifies that scholarships or other state education assistance to students is not the same thing as aid to institutions. Assistance to students is permissible.
- Protects the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship from legal challenges.
- Protects dual-credit and concurrent credit programs from legal challenges.
- Ensures that when Idaho provides assistance to students, then the state will not have to exclude some students’ best options.
- It aligns Idaho with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on school choice (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 2002). The Court ruled when scholarships, grants, loans, etc. go to students or parents of students—even though some of the money ends up in church institutions or schools—then such programs are permissible.
Here is what the amendment does not do:
- It does not “funnel money to churches.”
- It does not establish any programs to assist students. It is not policy; it is a change to the Constitution.
- It does not violate the U.S. Constitution’s “establishment clause.”
- It does not give any advantage or disadvantage to churches or church-affiliated schools.
Isn’t it time to ask the Citizens, the parents, the people of Idaho what they want to do?
Let’s put this on the Ballot in November!