BOISE • An Idaho House panel has introduced a proposal that would allow students to use public funding toward religious school tuitions.

Republican Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg says the bill, also known as the Blaine Amendment, would amend a section of the Idaho Constitution that currently forbids the direct public funding of religious institutions. Nate told the House Education Committee on Tuesday that students are already using public scholarship funds to pay for tuition at religious schools and the proposed measure would protect the state from potential lawsuits.

“We don’t want to find ourselves in court for programs that we come up with that are meeting the needs of Idaho’s students,” Nate said.

According to the proposal, students or students’ parents would be allowed to use state funds — in the form of a grant, donation or payment — toward tuition at a religious institution.

Two Democratic lawmakers on the committee questioned the need for the measure, including Rep. Ilana Rubel of Boise who called the bill “ill-advised.”

“Are you contemplating that if successful, this bill would lead to a system in which taxpayer money could be distributed in the form of vouchers and used to pay for tuition at religious schools?” she asked.

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Nate said the measure would only protect the scholarships programs that currently exist.

“Who knows what would be in Idaho’s future when it comes to scholarship or voucher programs,” he said. “But at least we will have the clarification in place should that ever happen.”

The measure passed its first hurdle unanimously. However, constitutional amendments must pass with a two-thirds majority in both bodies and then win a two-thirds majority in a statewide vote come November.

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