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Here's one way to enhance school choice in Idaho

Here's one way to enhance school choice in Idaho

Lindsay Russell Dexter
January 28, 2016

Yesterday, more than 1,500 people marched from the Basque Center to the Idaho State Capitol in support of school choice. The rally, which was a National School Choice Week event, indicated continued support for all learning options. The goal of the rally was to raise awareness and educate Idahoans on the educational options available. AMong those options are public schools, public charter schools, online learning and homeschooling.

This annual event acknowledges that every child has unique learning needs. Through school choice children will have the opportunity to succeed now and in the future.

Although Idaho does have some educational options for children, real school choice is limited. Take, for example, government-funded school vouchers, which are redeemable for tuition at a school other than the public school the student would otherwise be required to attend. States like Indiana, which has provided voucher opportunities for five years, have seen gains in student achievement. Despite the success of vouchers in other states, no bill providing for them has ever been introduced in the Idaho Legislature.

Beyond vouchers, Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) are growing in popularity. ESAs truly empower parents and provide pure educational freedoms; ESAs essentially wrap all school choice options in one package. Also known as Educational Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, ESAs allow parents to completely customize their child’s education.

With Educational Savings Accounts, 90 percent of the funds that would have been spent on behalf of a student in a public school are dedicated to the child for his or her self-tailored use. The funds can be spent on: tuition and textbooks at an approved private school, university, state college or community college; tutoring services provided by an approved tutor or tutoring facility; and, fees for nationally standardized norm-reference tests, advanced placement exams, or any exam related to post-secondary admissions. Additionally, the funds may be expended on special instruction or services; transportation to and from a participating entity, up to $750 per year; and curriculum and supplemental materials.

Idaho students continue to show declining math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress report, graduate at low rates, and exhibit several other less-than-desirable blemishes on Idaho’s student achievement fact sheet. But, there is hope.

When educational reform rallies, like the school choice march yesterday, bring together more than 1,500 people to participate, it’s clear students want and deserve an education that focuses on their unique learning needs and parents want and deserve the opportunity to provide that education for their child.

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