There’s a poster occasionally displayed in legislators’ offices that says, “Government: If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions.” It’s common for legislators to ignore their own advice and plow forward with solutions equally as bad as the problems they’re trying to solve.
Witness House Bill 93, a well-intentioned bill supported by well-intentioned people, attempting to confront the twin-headed problem of a teacher shortage and a lack of meaningful paths to certify teachers. The bill split the usually solid conservative bloc in the House and passed the chamber Feb. 28 on a 43-25 vote. HB 93 is on its way to the Senate for consideration. But despite support from philosophical allies, it’s just another form of government welfare, only we don’t call it that.
The problem doesn’t lie in the bill’s attempt to allow more organizations to certify teachers. That’s an admirable policy decision that the state of Idaho has been undertaking for the last 15 years. House Bill 93 goes a step further—in the wrong direction, telling private vendors that the state will match the money that they front to recruit and train teachers for hard-to-fill positions.
House Bill 93 dovetails with the above-mentioned poster's words, because it treats the symptoms not the cause of the teacher-shortage problem. The lack of qualified teachers and the current stranglehold that the higher education system has on the certification of teachers is a state Legislature-created problem. The Legislature can solve this problem without creating a new program and without the use of government subsidies; it just refuses to do so.
Consider the fact that under state law, a person can legally teach at a university, but that same person might be legally barred from teaching K-12 students. How weird is that? Maybe the real problem is the state’s own prohibition on schools having access to the pool of talent that could be tapped tomorrow if regulations allowed.
Legislators assure me that the subsidy will expand the pool of organizations offering teacher certification programs and increase accountability for those organizations that certify teachers. Here, legislators confuse “accountability” with “control.”
By offering organizations taxpayer subsidies, those organizations will soon realize that they have to dance to the tune played by government regulators, or lose funding. In short, these subsidies will do what they always do: make private organizations dependent on government funds. This is why it’s a form of government welfare. Those organizations then cease innovating for fear of losing government support. And organizations that dare to offer something different, that want to compete for market share with new ideas and novel innovations will be shut out of the marketplace through regulations. Those regulations will be written with the help of incumbent organizations who’ve figured out how to game the system. It’s predictable because it always happens this way.
I know why some conservatives voted for the subsidy: Idaho creates an artificial barrier to entry for people willing to teach in the government school system, but the moderate Republicans in charge refuse to go to war with the teachers union or the higher education lobby over it. House Bill 93 is the path of least resistance. It’s also the path guaranteed to prove costly to taxpayers and least beneficial to Idaho’s schoolchildren, parents, and teachers who deserve more than the development of another government welfare program, when better options exist.