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Opting out of public school this fall? Legislators won't help your transition

Opting out of public school this fall? Legislators won't help your transition

Wayne Hoffman
August 14, 2020
Wayne Hoffman
August 14, 2020

Legislative leaders have summarily decided to shut down any talk of expanding school choice options for the upcoming academic year. The reason? They claim there’s not enough time to consider school choice options. Thus, Idaho schoolchildren, parents, and teachers will likely find themselves stuck with public schools that aren’t handling Covid-19 the way anyone wants or needs.

The real reason more options won’t be made available: Lawmakers prefer to kneel at the altar of the education cartels.

One option on the table was the creation of  emergency education savings accounts (ESAs), which parents could have used to shop for educational alternatives to traditional public schools. The proposal would have replicated a similar option parents in South Carolina will enjoy. There, Republican officials are giving parents access to federal CARES Act funding to use for tuition and fees, books, computers, and other education expenses for their children. 

The various education choice proposals to have been considered by Idaho’s legislators would have provided parents and students similar options. A side benefit of the choice proposals: opening opportunities for teachers to continue in-person teaching with smaller groups of students if educators felt uncomfortable returning to the classroom. The choice proposals were expected to be considered August 13 in a joint meeting of House and Senate education committees, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute. Upset legislators told me the cancelation had everything to do with the education choice programs that would have been considered at the hearing.

“Several of the pending drafts [that concern education choice] are presenting complex legislation with new concepts that are best vetted during a traditional legislative session,” lawmakers were told in an unsigned email forwarded to them from the Legislative Services Office. “We do not believe the extraordinary session will allow appropriate levels of public evaluation to assure that the operational, technical, legal and fiscal impacts are provided.”

House Education Chairman Lance Clow confirmed to me that ESA legislation was all that was left on the docket. He said he would have been willing to hear the education choice bills at an earlier committee meeting. Clow said the “complex” legislation can be taken up instead come January. 

I call BS on that. First, the money from the CARES Act has to be spent by Dec. 31. So, waiting until January’s regular session won’t allow parents to access the federal money for emergency education programs now or in the future. Folks like Clow know this. He’s just biding his time until the cash is gone. 

Mark my words, when the Legislature convenes this winter, Clow and his colleagues will claim that the lack of funds (and possibly lack of time) prevents the state from expanding education choice.  

Second, waiting until January means Idaho school students, their parents, and their teachers will have put up with all the Covid-related conditions that exist in their schools. That might be mask mandates, social distancing requirements, online or blended learning, or whatever other one-size-fits-everyone operational orders a school district and public health officials can contrive. If parents don’t like it, tough. It also means parents who opt out of government schools will be forced to cover education expenses twice — through their taxes and through the private purchase of lesson plans, computers, flash cards, and so on. 

Third, all public policy is complex. Legislation concerning lawsuit liability, public health district authority, and gubernatorial emergency powers are complex. Yet, lawmakers feel they can tackle those issues this month. Why are education choice options different? 

I’ll tell you: For the legislative oligarchy, the most important consideration is the preservation of the existing school system. That school system depends on forcing students to return to, or enroll in, their local public school district. Lawmakers who depend on the financial support of education special interests — labor unions, school board and administrators associations — don’t want to do anything that might upset Education Inc. So they concoct phony reasons to do nothing, figuring the public won’t be the wiser about a good idea that never saw the light of day. Special interest groups win, and Idaho’s parents, students, and teachers lose.

Better education options exist, and fortunately, Idaho parents are smarter than some lawmakers give them credit. I suspect many parents and teachers will create their own solutions for students: Opt-out of public schools. Homeschool. Form parent-and-student centric micro-schools and co-ops. Use free online curricula. Deploy community resources to aid young people in their learning. Parents and teachers, don’t wait for politicians to give your students a better education. Take charge.

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