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.

Vouchers: No

Tax Credits: Yes

Existing Private School Choice Programs


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.”

1995 Idaho Attorney General Annotated Report 74 (copy available from the Institute for Justice) An attorney general’s guideline concluded that a tax credit for tuition paid to non-public schools would be a “grant or donation of … money” in violation of Idaho’s Blaine Amendment.

Analysis and Recommendations

Tax credit programs are a viable school choice option for Idaho. Because of the restrictive interpretation of Idaho’s Blaine Amendment, the tax credit should be available to parents regardless of whether they have already paid funds to a private or parochial school. In that way, it will be clear that the credit is a refund of money for government services not used and that it is a benefit to the parent, not the school, as outlined by the attorney general’s 1997 opinion.

The Idaho Supreme Court is unlikely to uphold a voucher program that includes religious schools given that the Court struck down a statute allowing transportation of private school students at public expense as a violation of the state’s Blaine Amendment.

Model Legislation: Education Savings Account, Great Schools Tax Credit Program, Family Education Tax Credit Program

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