BOISE — The Senate voted 20-15 against reconsidering HB 294 that would have created the Strong Students Grant Program. The decision came after the Senate voted 18-16 on Tuesday to kill the bill. In a surprise twist, Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, who had initially voted against the bill, changed her mind and asked for a revote. While it looked like it may get a second chance, Wednesday’s vote means the bill is officially dead.
“I would just like to see the bill get another reconsideration by the body,” Zito said in defense of the revote.
“I don’t think there’s been enough new information brought forward overnight that I’m aware of that changes the substance or the effect of the bill,” Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, argued.
On March 16, the Senate Education Committee voted in favor of amending HB 294 to remove the section of the bill that would have created a Strong Students Scholarship Program after many criticized it for being too voucher-like. The bill was created by Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian.
The amended version of HB 294 would have only created the Strong Students Grant Program. The program would have given grants to mostly low-income families for education-related purchases. Had the bill passed, students would have been able to use the money on tutoring, extracurriculars, education equipment such as laptops, college prep classes, mental health counseling, or private school tuition and fees.
Zito may have changed her mind after speaking to lobbyists who were in attendance Tuesday and spent time talking to senators. The lobbyists are from Yes Every Kid, a school choice lobby group funded by the Koch political network. Yes Every Kid spent approximately $3,400 on advertising in Idaho and $250 on “entertainment, food, refreshments,” according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s website. Though it has not yet been reported how much was spent in March, it is likely that significantly more was spent due to the amount of television advertising in support of HB 294 that appeared that month. The TV commercials aired statewide. Commercials for bills are almost unheard of in Idaho.
“Billionaire industrialist Charles Koch’s powerful network that’s known for influencing state policy is now targeting education issues like school choice as the movement battles a new wave of hostility from Democrats who oppose charter schools and private school vouchers that use taxpayer money,” reported the Associated Press in 2019.
In 2019, Koch “announced the Yes Every Kid initiative as the latest addition to his sprawling network of wealthy donors, political groups and tax-exempt advocacy organizations best known for pushing anti-regulation, small-government policies. Its political arm, Americans for Prosperity, has made waves supporting the tea party and fighting former President Barack Obama’s health care law,” reported the Associated Press
“The Yes Every Kid group is tasked with monitoring statehouses where it can be influential on school choice, said Stacy Hock, a Texas philanthropist who is among hundreds of donors each contributing at least $100,000 annually to the Koch network’s wide-ranging agenda.”