Supporters of education choice and parental rights will remember Idaho’s 2022 legislative session as the Year of the Micro-reform. Instead of implementing meaningful changes that give families control over their children’s education, the Legislature passed inconsequential bills that failed to make major headway in solving the problems plaguing Idaho’s education system.
2022 Session Recap: Education Bills
The education bills this session spanned a variety of issues such as teacher certification, content standards, full-day kindergarten, teacher pay and bonuses, school board trustee vacancies, student scholarships, and school mask mandate exemptions.
Significant pieces of legislation that became law include:
A piece of significant legislation passed by the Legislature but vetoed by the governor is:
Significant pieces of legislation that died in committee or on the floor include:
Teacher certification is one avenue through which critical social justice ideologies trickle into public schools. Idaho’s state education agencies use mandatory certification requirements to force teachers to receive training in anti-racism or culturally responsive teaching to enter the profession. The Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 1291a, which would allow public charter schools to develop their own certification standards, but this bill does not apply to district schools. The bill represents a step in the right direction in decentralizing certification decisions to the local level but could have gone farther.
Commission for Libraries Budget
The Legislature passed a budget defunding the Idaho Commission for Libraries by nearly $4 million. This funding reduction included removing $307,000 in funding for the Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance (IDEA), an initiative that provides students at nearly 400 school libraries independent access to many titles that promote the sexualization of children and Marxist ideologies like critical race theory. Removing funding for this initiative helps protect students from politically motivated ideologies infiltrating public and school libraries.
Parental Permission for School Clubs
House Bill 680 would have required schools to receive written permission from a student’s parents before that student participated in any student club or organization at school. Because some organizations available to students may not align with a parent’s values or expectations, it is critical that parents are informed about the options available to their student and give affirmative consent before the student participates.
Parental Permission for Student Data Collection
Increasingly, schools are incorporating instructional components that focus less on academic content and more on students’ mental or behavioral health. One new tool used to accomplish this in schools is social-emotional learning (SEL) programs. SEL programs often collect sensitive data about students, including their personalities, behavior, attitudes, and psychological or emotional status, all without parental consent. This data is stored in a statewide longitudinal database and can be shared with outside organizations. Passing legislation requiring parental consent before information on a student’s social and emotional health is collected or stored would be a positive step toward protecting student privacy and enforcing parental rights.
Curriculum transparency is becoming increasingly important to parents. Parents have the right to direct the education and care of their children and are not subservient partners to the state. Parents deserve to see for themselves what their children are learning in the public education system without having to rely on the assurances of school officials. Although the Legislature passed a minor transparency bill, which increased the representation of parents and citizens on curricular materials adoption committees, giving parents access to any and all curricular and supplemental materials distributed to children would be a stronger way to restore parental rights.
In 2021, 19 states passed new or expanded education choice programs, which enable parents to choose the right educational environment for their child or customize that child’s education to fit his or her unique needs, interests, and goals. House Bill 669, which failed in the House Education Committee by a vote of 8-7, would have established education savings accounts for which 65% of Idaho K-12 students would have qualified. Five Republicans joined the Democrats in the House Education Committee to kill the bill. Because a one-size-fits-all government-run education system does not meet the unique needs of each student, parents should have the flexibility to use their child’s education dollars to choose the mix of educational products and services that best serves their child.
Rather than going for the gold and instituting transformational changes for the benefit of Idaho’s students and families, the Legislature implemented minor changes to the existing education system that failed to make significant improvements.
The Legislature could have passed robust legislation to protect parental rights by requiring consent for student data collection and participation in school clubs and allowing parents to view supplemental curriculum used in the classroom. Instead, the Legislature slightly increased parent representation on curriculum advisory committees.
The Legislature had an opportunity to pass an education choice bill that would have allowed the majority of students to receive a customized education that fits their needs. Instead, the Legislature expanded the existing public school monopoly by creating full-day kindergarten programs and increasing spending on the system.
The Legislature gave families slightly more flexibility within the existing public system but did not implement any changes that constitute “school choice.”
For instance, Rep. Codi Galloway characterized Senate Bill 1373 as an education choice bill. During a hearing on the bill, Galloway argued that at its core, “This bill really is about choice in education.” However, the bill changed how literacy funding is allocated to allow for taxpayer-funded all-day kindergarten programs. By expanding the government’s role in education, the bill will actually limit parental choice by hampering the marketplace and driving up prices for private alternatives.
Similarly, Senate Bill 1255, which gives students $1,000 grants to use for a limited set of educational expenses, was billed as school choice legislation, even though it does not provide enough money for students to pay tuition at an alternative school and does not include private school tuition as an eligible expense.
These pieces of legislation were falsely portrayed as “school choice,” and they failed to enable Idaho’s families to choose the best educational environment for their children.