Poll: Many Idaho voters unfamiliar with ‘school choice’ policy debate

Legislators say controversial K-12 policy will be a priority this session

By: - December 14, 2022 4:30 am
Empty school classroom

The Idaho Constitution strictly prohibits the use of public funds for any form of religious education. For the past 132 years, the separation of public money from religious instruction has been rigidly upheld in Idaho. SCOTUS has unfortunately provided a workaround, writes guest columnist Jim Jones.

Likely voters across Idaho showed strong support for more education funding, and mixed support for school choice and education savings accounts, in a poll commissioned by the Mountain States Policy Center.

But a large segment of likely voters in Idaho weren’t familiar with the policy idea of “school choice” that Idaho lawmakers expect to be a centerpiece of the upcoming legislative session, which starts in less than a month.

The policy center is a new organization focused on free market principles that launched in October and held a lunch meeting Tuesday to announce the poll results and host a panel of legislators who talked about the upcoming session.

More than one-third of Idahoans surveyed said they’re not familiar with school choice

Robert Jones, vice president of GS Strategy Group, said the poll included a representative sample of people by gender, age, political party and education level.

About the poll

GS Strategy Group polled 400 likely voters across Idaho in mid-November. 

About 71% said they support Idaho’s recent income tax change to a flat rate of 5.8%, while 16% opposed it. Roughly half said the tax should be further reduced or eliminated, while 37% said it should remain at the flat rate.

The poll has a margin of error of 4.9%.

Respondents were asked to rate Idaho’s K-12 public school system, and 34% rated it as good, with 3% calling it excellent. More than half rated it as fair or poor.

Jones said Democrats tended to rate schools as fair or poor, while Republicans were more likely to rate them as good or excellent.

“I would attribute that to a very powerful drug called partisanship, which is that Republicans know Republicans are in charge in Idaho, so they want to think well of the people they’ve put in charge,” Jones said. “But even among Republicans, 42% say excellent or good and 51% say fair or poor.”

The top concerns for Idaho’s education system were academic results and level of funding, followed by 15% who were concerned about critical race theory and 9% concerned about sex education.


Those polled also expressed support for Idaho’s recent increases in funding for K-12 education, with 54% saying they strongly support the increases, including 77% of Republican respondents.

(Courtesy of Mountain States Policy Center/GS Strategy Group)

On the subject of school choice, 40% of those polled said they had a favorable opinion of school choice as an educational policy, but 35% said they had never heard of it.

School choice is a debate over funding for public education. It often includes discussion of programs such as vouchers or education savings accounts that would allow families to use the tax dollars that support students in public schools to instead pay for other educational pursuits, such as private school or homeschooling.

Meridian legislator: School choice isn’t meant to help the wealthy

Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, was part of the legislative panel at the Mountain States Policy Center lunch. She said people often frame school choice debates as trying to give preference to wealthy families, but that’s not the case, she said.

“People with means already have choice,” Den Hartog said. “We’d like to expand options for families who don’t have the means to make that choice right now.”

(Courtesy of Mountain States Policy Center/GS Strategy Group)

Den Hartog said she’s excited to have new legislators at the table this session and thinks they can “do some big things” this year on the subject of school choice.

The legislative panel also included Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, Sen. Ben Toews, R-Coeur d’Alene and Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale. Toews will be co-chair of the Senate Education Committee in the upcoming legislative session. 

“School choice is my priority, it’s what I ran on,” Toews said. “Talking to constituents, going door-to-door … they were really supportive and passionate about school choice and specifically education savings accounts and what that could do, putting the free market principles of that kind of a program to education in our state.”

Another legislative priority: the homeowner’s exemption

Skaug said one of his priorities for the legislative session, which begins Jan. 9, is homeowner tax relief.

“Everybody’s talking about it all across the state, and we failed last year, we utterly failed,” Skaug said. “We should all go home and be sent home if we don’t do something this year.”

Skaug said he has his own bill that is similar to the one he drafted in the 2021 session. That bill was denied a hearing. This version would index the exemption to 2016 property values, he said.

A Republican senator has a homeowner’s exemption bill of his own, Skaug said, and the two have pledged to cosponsor each other’s bills in an effort to make sure one of them becomes law.


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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.