Yesterday, Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 1, allocating an additional $330 million every year to K-12 public education. All kids deserve access to these funds so that they can attend the school where their unique needs are met.
Idaho’s education landscape is changing rapidly. More students are homeschooling than ever before. Learning pods and blended learning options are gaining in popularity. Enrollment in traditional private schools is increasing. The families using these education options demonstrate the need for school choice.
For far too long, establishment Republicans have assumed that supporting education means pouring more money into the public school monopoly. Yet there has been a national shift toward funding students instead of systems. Arizona and West Virginia have adopted universal school choice programs ensuring that every kid has access to the best education possible. More than 30 states now have private school choice programs.
Recent polling shows that 75% of parents support school choice policies like education savings accounts. These families want tax dollars to be freed from the system so that their kids can have a customized education suited to their families values and their child’s academic needs.
Rep. Wendy Horman explained the issue during the House floor debate, she said, “We fund on a 28 year old system that was built for the 90s that funds the system.” Horman argued that instead we should send this money to “our students and families in ways that will drive outcome changes.”
For many families, choosing the best education for their child is financially out of reach. Other families pay twice just to give their children the education they need — once for their local public school and once for the private education option they choose.
Why should such a financial burden exist for families who simply want to give their children a good education?
Education policy is about helping every child succeed. Students should not have to attend a public school in order to receive support and resources.
Idaho policymakers should empower families by ensuring that education dollars follow the student and allocating the $330 million increase in education spending to universal school choice. This should include allowing families to customize their child’s education by using funds for myriad purposes including tuition and fees at a private school, tutoring, curriculum, transportation, textbooks, and technology, among other services.
The scholarship amount allocated to each student should be equitable when compared to Idaho’s spending per student of $11,459 based on average daily attendance. At a minimum, it should account for the state’s portion per student. House Bill 669, which would have created the Hope and Opportunity Scholarships, for example, allocated scholarships worth approximately $5,950. This amount would enable families to pay for tuition and fees at many private schools in the state, homeschool, or start a learning pod, among other options.
But the policy was not universal. Its eligibility requirement included an income cap that excluded approximately 35% of students who deserved access to better education options. School choice policies should follow the lead of West Virginia and Arizona by serving the needs of every kid.
Overall, policymakers must broaden their understanding of what it means to support education in Idaho. Education is about serving the needs of students, not feeding a monopoly system. Every education policy developed in the next session should be focused on this goal.
Families have made it abundantly clear that the status quo of shoving kids into Idaho’s one-size-fits-all system is not acceptable. Parents deserve to have control over how their education dollars are spent so that they can direct their children's education and care.
Policymakers should spend Little’s $330 million on school choice if they want to make a worthwhile change in our education system and improve the future of every kid.
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