Vouchers – no accountability giveaways

Once again in the Idaho legislature, there is a renewed effort to impose an educational voucher system. The sponsors of this misguided legislation avoid using the toxic word “voucher” and euphemistically employ “Tax credits” instead. Whatever the term utilized to dress up this poorly conceived legislation, it should more accurately be called, “No accountability giveaways!”

This $5,000 dollar per child “Tax credit” is simply a handout for wealthy parents to send their children to private or parochial schools with zero accountability on how the money is used.

Thus, vouchers / tax credits are essentially fiscal giveaways for the urban rich as most middle class and working poor parents, even with voucher money, simply cannot afford to send their children to costly private or parochial schools.

It is like subsidizing a rich person with tax payer money to help them buy a yacht. Even if everyone is eligible for a yacht voucher, only a privileged few will be able to purchase the luxury item.

Let’s be clear, educational vouchers will benefit only the Boise based wealthy. Over 85 percent of all Idaho’s private and parochial schools are in urban centers. How will a voucher bill benefit parents from Clark County or Leadore? Why should I or anyone else have to subsidize wealthy elites to send their kids to an elitist private or church school?

Idaho currently ranks 51st in the USA in per pupil expenditures. Data doesn’t lie and no matter how one cuts it, Idaho is dead last. This fiscal albatross voucher scheme will negatively impact public schools even further (particularly rural schools) by diverting desperately needed resources to private or religious schools.

Another valid question is why are out of state monied companies so desperately pushing for vouchers? Why are we allowing out of state voucher carpetbaggers to dictate our legislation?

Voucher proponents argue loudly that parents need choice, but parents already have many educational choices. They can choose private or parochial schools if available, or they can choose to home school their child. Within the public school framework, parents may choose traditional, online, charter, or magnet schools. There is already plenty of choice.

Another major concern is these voucher bills provide for zero fiscal accountability. Who will be responsible for overseeing that each education voucher dollar is utilized appropriately, especially with those homeschooling? Will homeschooling parents have to register on a government mandated list for annual expenditure reviews? Are there enough state auditors to review these expenditures?

What will the penalties be for illegal or inappropriate voucher uses? What utilizations will be considered educational in nature? Who will make those decisions? Who will oversee the funds? Who will hold private, parochial, or home schooling parents accountable? Do these private or home groups want strict government fiscal oversight? These fundamental questions must be addressed.

Another deep concern is that I believe vouchers represent a clear violation of the Constitution by forcing me to use my hard earned tax dollars to subsidize private Evangelical, Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Mormon, or Muslim etc… religious teachings.

While I agree that parents have a right to pay for their own child’s religious upbringing or indoctrination, why should I, or other tax payers like me be forced to do so?

One of the many blessings we have of living in this great nation is that we enjoy freedom OF religion, but equally important, freedom FROM religion. Our founding fathers were very clear on this point as they determinedly did not want a tax supported state religion like the Church of England. Vouchers are a dangerous step towards the unnecessary mingling of church and state.

Tax payer dollars should only be used for public purposes.

Vouchers are wrong on multiple levels. They are welfare for the rich, they are budget busters that will take away money from and hurt rural communities, voucher bill efforts are financed by out of state carpetbaggers, provide only an illusion of choice, they force tax payer support of religion, and there will be zero to very little meaningful fiscal accountability and oversight.

Please join with me in working to prevent negatively impactful vouchers / tax credits.

Geoff Thomas

Geoff Thomas

Geoff Thomas is the former superintendent of the Madison School District and was a member of the governor's Task Force for Improving Education. He now serves as an assistant professor at Idaho State University.

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