Idaho

Idaho

Prior to Espinoza, both tax credit scholarship and education savings account programs were educational choice options in Idaho, but traditional voucher programs were not. To date, Idaho’s Supreme Court has only allowed a voucher program in the context of a special education program designed to satisfy the mandate imposed by the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. In Epeldi v. Engelking, Idaho’s Supreme Court interpreted the state’s Blaine Amendment restrictively to prohibit transporting nonpublic school students to private schools.

After Espinoza, however, the state can no longer rely on its Blaine Amendment to prohibit any religiously neutral and generally available educational choice program. Idaho’s Blaine Amendment discriminates against religious educational options in the same manner as the Montana Blaine Amendment that was at issue in Espinoza. It thus cannot be invoked to prohibit religious educational options in a generally available choice program. As such, policymakers are now free to adopt either a publicly funded or tax-credit incentivized educational choice program.

Constitutional Provisions
Compelled Support Clause
“No person shall be required to attend or support any ministry or place of worship, religious sect or denomination, or pay tithes against his consent ….” Idaho Const. Art. I, § 4.

Blaine Amendment
“Neither the legislature nor any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian or religious society, or for any sectarian or religious purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church, sectarian or religious denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation, to any church or for any sectarian or religious purpose; provided, however, that a health facilities authority, as specifically authorized and empowered by law, may finance or refinance any private, not for profit, health facilities owned or operated by any church or sectarian religious society, through loans, leases, or other transactions.” Idaho Const. Art. IX, § 5.

Education Articles
“The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Idaho Const. Art. IX, § 1.

“No religious test or qualification shall ever be required of any person as a condition of admission into any public educational institution of the state, either as teacher or student; and no teacher or student of any such institution shall ever be required to attend or participate in any religious service whatever. No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools, nor shall any distinction or classification of pupils be made on account of race or color. No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article, nor shall any teacher or any district receive any of the public school moneys in which the schools have not been taught in accordance with the provisions of this article.” Idaho Const. Art. IX, § 6.

Relevant Case Law
Doolittle v. Meridian Joint School District, 919 P.2d 334 (Idaho 1996)
The Idaho Supreme Court held that although Idaho’s Blaine Amendment prohibits paying for a special education student’s placement in a religious school with public funds, the federal special education grant program, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), preempts the state law and requires parents to be reimbursed when a “free and appropriate education” is not offered in public schools as required by the IDEA.

Epeldi v. Engelking, 488 P.2d 860 (Idaho 1971)
The Idaho Supreme Court held that the state could not subsidize the transportation of private school students without violating Idaho’s Blaine Amendment.

1997 Ida. AG LEXIS 2 (1997 Opinion attorney general Idaho 13)
Idaho’s attorney general concluded that a bill to provide tax credits to parents who do not use public schools would likely be constitutional under Idaho’s Blaine Amendment because “[t]he credit is not dependent upon payment of money to a sectarian school, and any benefits to parochial schools are tenuous at best.” \ He distinguished an earlier attorney general’s opinion by noting that under the tax credit proposal “there is no requirement that the taxpayer pay any money to a private or church affiliated school before being able to claim the credit. The benefit flows to the taxpayer/ parent, not to the school.” The credit provides a benefit to parents for the stated purpose of relieving the burden on the state’s public school system. 

1989 Ida. AG LEXIS 6, 10 (1989 Opinion Attorney General 42)
Idaho’s attorney general opined that the Idaho College Work Study Program, which uses public funds to pay for students’ on-campus jobs at public or private universities, violates Idaho’s Blaine Amendment because it would aid “postsecondary institutions controlled by churches, sectarian or religious denominations.”

Existing Private School Choice Programs
None

What You've Heard About Blaine Amendments

Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Their original purpose was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools while preserving funding for America’s nascent “common” schools, which were predominantly Protestant and often inhospitable to Catholics. For decades, opponents of educational choice have employed Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons to impede and invalidate educational choice programs. However, thanks to a decades-long legal strategy tenaciously pursued by IJ, these state constitutional obstacles to educational freedom are now largely a dead letter.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, that the federal Constitution allows states to empower parents to choose religious and nonreligious schools alike when participating in educational choice programs so long as the state remains religiously neutral and parents exercise true private choice. But Zelman left open the question of whether the constitution would permit a state to exclude religious options from an educational choice program. On June 30, 2020, in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court answered that open question and held that the federal Constitution forbids states from excluding religious schools as options for families participating in educational choice programs, including through Blaine Amendments.

The federal Constitution, wrote Chief Justice Roberts for the Espinoza majority, “condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them. They are members of the community too, and their exclusion from [Montana’s] scholarship program here is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.” The Supreme Court’s holding was clear and unambiguous—and it applies to every state: While a “State need not subsidize private education[,] . . . once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

As a result of Espinoza, nearly every state is free to enact programs that will empower parents to choose the educational environment that is best for their own children. Of course, each state has a unique history, context, and constitutional provisions. That is why IJ has produced this 50-state guide. The guide analyzes each state’s constitution in light of Espinoza and explains how the ruling impacts policymakers’ ability to enact educational choice programs.

What You Need to Know After Espinoza

Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Their original purpose was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools while preserving funding for America’s nascent “common” schools, which were predominantly Protestant and often inhospitable to Catholics. For decades, opponents of educational choice have employed Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons to impede and invalidate educational choice programs. However, thanks to a decades-long legal strategy tenaciously pursued by IJ, these state constitutional obstacles to educational freedom are now largely a dead letter.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2002, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, that the federal Constitution allows states to empower parents to choose religious and nonreligious schools alike when participating in educational choice programs so long as the state remains religiously neutral and parents exercise true private choice. But Zelman left open the question of whether the constitution would permit a state to exclude religious options from an educational choice program. On June 30, 2020, in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court answered that open question and held that the federal Constitution forbids states from excluding religious schools as options for families participating in educational choice programs, including through Blaine Amendments.

The federal Constitution, wrote Chief Justice Roberts for the Espinoza majority, “condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them. They are members of the community too, and their exclusion from [Montana’s] scholarship program here is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.” The Supreme Court’s holding was clear and unambiguous—and it applies to every state: While a “State need not subsidize private education[,] . . . once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

As a result of Espinoza, nearly every state is free to enact programs that will empower parents to choose the educational environment that is best for their own children. Of course, each state has a unique history, context, and constitutional provisions. That is why IJ has produced this 50-state guide. The guide analyzes each state’s constitution in light of Espinoza and explains how the ruling impacts policymakers’ ability to enact educational choice programs.

Select Your State

Program Status
All Educational Choice Programs
Only Tax Credit and ESA Programs
Educational Choice Programs Unavailable

For More Information

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