Idaho Senate passes bill to expand ‘limited’ school choice measures

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Idaho school choice advocates are celebrating a small win after a series of legislative defeats this week. The Idaho Senate Thursday passed an expansion of the Empowering Parents program, so the bill now heads to the House. 

Earlier in the week, the Idaho House Education Committee voted down legislation that would have created education savings accounts for students whose parents earned less than $70,000 to use on education expenses or private tuition. 

Advocates of school choice called the passage of the Empowering Parents expansion in the Senate a “small victory.” 

“The expansion of the Empowering Parents program in the Idaho Senate follows MSPC’s recommendations from a recent study on how to expand more options for families,” said Chris Cargill, Mountain State Policy Center president. 

“This program is very limited. Only 2,000 students can participate — that’s less than 1% of the state’s total public school student enrollment,” Cargill said. “But if it can help just one more child succeed, why not give it a try?”

The Empowering Parents grant program, SB 1161, would create a “micro grant” program of $1,000 which must be used for education expenses and allow for up to $6,000 in tuition grants for up to 2,000 students a year that can be used for traditional schools or a “micro school.”

Families whose household income is under $60,000 would get first priority followed by families making under $75,000, according to the language of SB 1161. The tuition grant application period would be from Jan. 1 to April 1 each year. 

The bill would cost $30 million for the micro grants and $12 million for the tuition grants, according to the MSPC. 

Idaho lawmakers argued that the failed House bill constituted an “ESA voucher” and that it did not comply with the state’s constitution. The Mountain States Policy Center argued neither statement was true. The legislature did not initially give the bill a hearing, as reported by Chalkboard Review

Idaho’s limited victory comes in the wake of repeated wins for school choice advocates. 

Arkansas recently saw the passage of the LEARNS Act, which raised starting salaries for the state’s teachers and made the school the fifth in the nation to have universal school choice, where state funds follow students regardless of whether they attend public or private schools. 

Brendan Clarey
Brendan Clarey is K-12 editor at Chalkboard Review. Reach him at

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