For the sake of our public school students, voters should do their homework

Originally posted on on April 17, 2024

By Rod Gramer

Rod GramerOver the next five weeks Idaho voters will be barraged by political messages from the far-right in their mailboxes and on social media. These messages will sound dark and scary. They will also be full of lies and deception.

The billionaires and their front organizations who lost the battle to pass voucher legislation in the 2024 session, are now waging an all-out war against the pro-public-school lawmakers who opposed their attempts to use taxpayer money to fund private and religious schools.

What they couldn’t achieve at the Statehouse, they are trying to achieve at the ballot box in the upcoming May GOP primary.

Just see what Tommy Schultz, the CEO of the American Federation for Children (AFC) was quoted as saying: “If you’re a candidate or lawmaker who opposes school choice and freedom in education – you’re a target.”

And Schultz means it. The AFC spent $9 million in 2022 defeating public school supporters across the country. This year Schultz pledged to spend $10 million to defeat lawmakers who oppose vouchers, according to Politico.

And Schultz has a powerful ally in Idaho House Speaker Mike Moyle who was frustrated he couldn’t get the voucher-like tax credit bill sponsored by Rep. Wendy Horman and Sen. Lori Den Hartog approved this session. “I still think that the school choice issue is not going away,” Moyle told Idaho Ed News as the Legislature adjourned. “I assure you that something will happen next year.”

Yet that “something” will only happen if Schultz and like-minded pro-voucher groups succeed in defeating pro-public school Republican lawmakers in May. Sadly, their targets are the very legislators who consistently vote to support the more than 300,000 students who attend our public schools. If Schultz and his allies win, Idaho’s public-school students lose.

During the 2024 Legislature, the AFC, Young Americans for Liberty and Yes. Every Kid spent $134,148 promoting vouchers. Together, the AFC and Young Americans for Liberty were by far the biggest spenders in the Legislature; Young Americans number one at $69,708 and the AFC number two at $55,794. The next closest Idaho-based lobbying effort was the Idaho Grain Growers which spent less than half of what the AFC and Young Americans did.

These pro-voucher groups are based out of state and have ties to some of the richest people in the country. The AFC is based in Dallas and was founded by billionaire Betsy DeVoss. Yes. Every Kid is based in Arlington, Virginia and was founded by billionaire Charles Koch. Young Americans for Liberty is also based in Virginia.

Even the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which holds the stated goal of abolishing public education in Idaho, has ties to out-of-state billionaires. The IFF is one of two Idaho “affiliates” of the State Policy Network, which is financed by dark money provided by some of the wealthiest people in the country. The IFF’s political action committee has launched a vicious campaign against the pro-public-school legislators.

In their attack propaganda, the pro-voucher groups claim the legislators who support public schools and oppose vouchers are “Right for California, Wrong for Idaho.” Ironically, the legislators they attack have deep and multi-generational ties to Idaho. They are life-long Republicans and conservatives and have nothing in common with California politics.

Meanwhile, the AFC and like organizations claim their anointed candidates are fighting for Idaho’s children. Yet their acolytes vote against every bill that would set our students up for success in school, work, and life. They even voted against funding for the Idaho Launch program which 14,000 high school seniors have applied for to attend postsecondary education.

Most of the time these billionaires don’t even mention vouchers in their attack messages because they know they are unpopular if privatization takes money away from public schools, which it does. Or sometimes they hide vouchers under the euphemism – “school choice.” They don’t bother to mention that Idahoans already have plenty of school choices, including local community schools, open enrollment, public charter schools, and home schools.

In short, these billionaires and their front are trying to convince Idaho voters that legislators who consistently support our youth wear black hats and legislators who never support education wear white hats. It’s like claiming day is night and night is day. It just doesn’t square with the truth.


Idaho voters should be aware that this influx of billionaire money and political muscle is not unique to our state. They have been bullying pro-public-school lawmakers for years and have stepped up their attacks this year.

In the Texas primary last month, the billionaires and their front organizations, including the AFC Victory Fund, launched a pitched battle against the pro-public-school lawmakers. Unfortunately, they were successful in defeating nine legislators who had stood in their way for years. Their success almost ensures that vouchers will pass in Texas next winter.

One of the Texas legislators the billionaires defeated was Rep. Glenn Rogers, a conservative sixthgeneration rancher from Mineral Wells, and a staunch public-school supporter. The billionaire front organizations accused Rogers of voting to create a pension fund for himself (he didn’t) and supporting President Biden’s border policies (he doesn’t). Clearly, they didn’t let the truth stand in their way.

Rogers told Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 Investigates that those accusations were in mailers sent to voters by Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC. It is a Texas political action committee started this year by oil billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. Since January Dunn and Wilks spent $3 million to support pro-voucher candidates, according to The Texas Tribune.

If Farris Wilks’ name sounds familiar, it’s because he and his brother bought thousands of acres of Idaho land a few years ago and made headlines when they closed it off to snowmobilers and other recreationists who had used it for years.

The border control mailer warned Rogers’ primary voters, “Don’t let Glenn Rogers Give Democrats control of the Texas Border!” Then it had pictures of President Biden, Vice President Harris, and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi next to it. Rogers told NewsChannel 5 that the claim that he was supporting Biden’s border policies was “obviously a ridiculous statement and a complete lie.”

Just like the ads against Idaho legislators the bogus pension fund and border control mailers never mentioned vouchers as they are unpopular in rural Texas. But the message to Rogers was clear – he had stopped them from privatizing Texas schools for the last time.

“To say that billionaires don’t have anything to do with this (attack literature) is ludicrous,” Rogers said. “They’re in control of our state right now. And if this trend continues with billionaires having this much influence, what happens to our Republic? Well, it’s really no longer a Republic. It’s an oligarch.”


The billionaires have next turned their firepower on Tennessee lawmakers who oppose a $144 million voucher bill. One of the legislators being targeted is Republican Rep. Todd Warner. Warner told Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 that a pro-voucher lobbyist told him, “I can’t protect you if you aint’t on the right side of this.”

“So, when you don’t vote with Americans for Prosperity (a pro-voucher group founded by billionaire Charles Koch), you’re risking billionaires coming after you,” Warner told NewsChannel 5. He added that “big money” is trying to control the Volunteer State’s Legislature.

NewsChannel 5 reported that the American Federation for Children Victory Fund is warning legislators that it defeated anti-voucher lawmakers in Texas and “hinting” that it will do the same in Tennessee. Yes, that’s the same AFC which is targeting Idaho’s anti-voucher lawmakers in the upcoming May primary.

The station also reported that billionaire and TikTok founder Jeff Yass recently gave the AFC Victory Fund $3.5 million and billionaires Betsy and Dick DeVos gave it $1 million. Betsy DeVos and her AFC have spent millions over the years expanding vouchers in states like Wisconsin by electing pro-voucher legislators – just as the AFC wants to do this May in Idaho.


It is important for Idahoans to know what is going on in their state, and these other states because they are being misled by these billionaires and their front organizations. I am confident that if voters have accurate information about the candidates they will see through the misleading mailers and social media ads attacking the legislators who support the schools their constituents’ kids attend.

These billionaire-funded front groups don’t understand what makes Idaho tick because they don’t live here. Historically, Idahoans are fiercely independent, have a live-and-let-live philosophy, and hold a strong commitment to and pride in their communities and public schools. Idahoans volunteer in their communities, churches, and schools more than almost any state in the country.

Every Friday night in the fall and winter the bleachers in towns across our state are full of people cheering for their local teams. These public schools are the heart and soul of our Idaho communities. Just ask the good people of West Bonner who fought and took back their schools from the far-right last fall.

Idahoans I’ve talked to are tired of the chaos that these far-right legislators and their billionaire backers are creating year after year. They are tired of legislators who work to defund our public schools and ignore the kitchen-table issues that Idahoans face like being able to buy a home. They are tired of political extremists preaching at them about “Idaho values” when they couldn’t’ find Mackay or Kamiah on a map. They are tired of carpetbagger billionaires who want to privatize education in our state.

All voters must do to get the truth is ask their candidates if they support public schools or support taxpayer-funded tuition for private and religious schools. That will help voters separate white hat candidates from the black hat candidates. And it will tell them who will bring sanity, common sense, and true conservative principles back to the Idaho Legislature.

Perhaps Rep. Glenn Rogers has the best advice for our primary voters. “I’m hoping that people will begin to realize what is actually happening here, who is behind this and be able to see through the money and lies.”

Let’s just hope Rogers is right. For the sake of our public-school students.

Rod Gramer is president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education, a group of Idaho business leaders dedicated to education excellence.