Resolution introduced to repeal amendment prohibiting public funds for religious schools
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Senate Education Committee introduced a resolution that would remove a section in the Idaho Constitution that prohibits public funds from being spent on religious schools.
Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, proposed a resolution, arguing prohibiting public funds from being spent at a religious school was religious bigotry and called the section of the constitution a dead letter
“The Blaine Amendment is a relic of religious bigotry that prevents state funds from flowing to sectarian organizations,” Lenney said.
Any constitutional amendment would require two-thirds support from both the full House of Representatives and Senate to get on the ballot, and then require voter approval.
Article IX Section 5 of the Idaho Constitution states 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.”
The so-called Blaine Amendment gets its name from former Republican Congressman James Blaine, who proposed the amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1875 to protect funding around public schools, but the amendment failed to make it out the U.S. Senate. Since then, many states have amended their state constitutions to prohibit the use of taxpayer money on religious education.
Idaho’s Blaine Amendment has repeatedly come up in discussions around school choice or education savings accounts. Should legislation pass around education savings accounts, opponents have pointed to the Constitutional amendment as one reason that taxpayer dollars could not be used at a religious school.
But in recent years, multiple Supreme Court decisions have changed the conversation. In June 2022, the United States Supreme Court struck down Washington state’s Blaine Amendment. In June 2020, the Supreme Court struck down Montana’s version of the Blaine Amendment.
The Senate Education Committee hasn’t yet heard a school choice bill as of Monday, but Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, who is on the committee, publicly said she plans to sponsor one called the “Education Freedom Act,” according to an Idaho Freedom Caucus news release. The act would direct roughly $6,000 per student to pay for expenses such as tuition or fees at private or vocational schools, textbooks and other educational necessities.
A copy of Nichols’ bill, released last week by the Freedom Caucus, prohibits governmental agencies from exercising control or supervision over any nonpublic school or homeschooling.
Nichols told Idaho Reports on Monday she anticipated presenting the bill Tuesday.