Debate over COVID-19 mitigation strategies continues to rage as many Idaho schoolchildren returned to the classroom recently. Exacerbation over how public schools have approached the pandemic and implemented distance learning plans has prompted parents to pursue alternative educational options for their children. And now we have the data to back it up.
Updated polling data from EdChoice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering families and promoting freedom in education, reveals that most adult Idahoans and parents of school-age children support school choice. Respondents were asked whether they supported various school choice policies, including Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), school vouchers, and charter schools.
An ESA is a state-authorized savings account that parents can use to fund their kids’ educations. Although parents must use the money for educational purposes, they can put the money to many uses, including tuition, tutoring costs, instructional materials, and future college expenses. Eight states presently offer ESAs to students and families.
The survey found that 66% of Idahoans and 74% of school parents support ESAs.
Yet last session, after Idaho representatives introduced a bill that would have created an ESA program for low-income students, Senate Education Committee members stripped the education scholarships from the bill, leaving behind only a micro-grant program.
EdChoice’s survey also asked respondents to describe their views on school vouchers, which enable parents to send their kids to a private school using the money allocated by the state for each student’s education. Under a voucher program, parents receive part or all the funds a state would normally allocate for a student’s education and can send their children to any private school, even if the school is religious.
Sixteen states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. offer one or more school voucher programs for families.
Idaho does not offer a school voucher program, but it may be ripe for reform given that 55% of adults and 62% of school parents favor vouchers.
Finally, EdChoice asked respondents whether they supported charter schools as an educational option. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently and exercise greater control over important aspects of education, such as staff, budget, and curriculum. Students may attend charter schools regardless of their home address, and acceptance is determined through a lottery.
Idahoans stand strongly in favor of charter schools, with 64% of all adults and 70% of school parents expressing approval.
EdChoice’s survey reveals that most Idaho parents prefer alternative educational options. When asked which educational option — private, public, home, or charter school — they would select if neither cost nor transportation factored into the decision, nearly two-thirds of those who were parents of school-age children reported that they would send their children to an alternative school rather than their designated public school.
Almost 24% of parents would enroll their children in a private school, while 19% would choose to homeschool and 13% would send their children to a charter school.
Parents know their kids best and deserve the flexibility to choose educational options that work best for them and their family. The pandemic has shown that Idaho families value school choice and that the traditional public school model does not serve every student well.
As Idaho legislators prepare for the upcoming legislative session, they should prioritize the educational choices parents want for their kids and develop legislative proposals that expand education choice options, such as ESAs and charter schools, to support students and families. All parents know their children are unique and deserve an education suited to their needs, but do legislators agree?
Note: EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker survey results are current as of October 6, 2021.