State of the State Address

Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter gives his State of the State Address Monday afternoon at the Idaho Capitol in Boise.

DREW NASH, TIMES-NEWS

BOISE • A Castleford school trustee and former president of the Idaho School Board Association asked lawmakers Monday not to ease the state’s constitutional prohibition on funding for religious schools.

The proposal “clearly violates the separation of church and state,” Todd Wells told the Senate Education Committee. Wells and other school trustees from throughout the state attended Monday’s meeting, which featured the introduction of a series of bills — including ones to reestablish a statewide school broadband system — and also presentations from ISBA on different education-related issues.

Wells said it would open the door for vouchers and tax credits to attend private and religious schools and could threaten to undo the increase in public education funding the Legislature is working toward.

“This dilution of education budget dollars could take us there,” he said.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, has proposed amending the state’s “Blaine Amendment” to clarify that students at religious schools can legally get some state scholarships they are already receiving. He said it is necessary to make sure these scholarships are legal in case it is ever challenged in court. The proposal has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee, where a hearing date has not been announced.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, agreed with Wells, saying the change would do nothing to address the state’s constitutional mandate to provide a “general, uniform and thorough” system of free public education.

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“If you choose to send your child to private school, it’s your choice but it’s also your cost,” she said.

But Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the proposal does not violate the separation of church and state, noting that there isn’t a Blaine Amendment equivalent in the U.S. Constitution. Maine Rep. James Blaine proposed one in 1875 — hence the name of the state-level amendments — but it failed to secure the needed two-third support in the Senate.

“Many people from religious backgrounds believe this is discriminatory,” she said.

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