As education reform continues to gain momentum across the nation, Idaho remains one of the few red states lagging behind on school choice. While six states have already passed universal school choice programs, Idaho lawmakers have yet to take meaningful action to expand educational opportunities for families.
During the 2023 legislative session, Idaho had a chance to change this with Senate Bill 1038, the Freedom in Education Savings Account Act, a bill that would have established a universal education savings account program to empower parents with the freedom to choose the educational options that work best for their children. Unfortunately, some Republican lawmakers chose to side with Democrats and teachers unions to kill the bill, effectively blocking thousands of Idaho families from accessing the educational opportunities they deserve.
These Republicans included Sen. Adams, Winder, Anthon, Bernt, Burtenshaw, Cook, Grow, Guthrie, Harris, Hartgen, Just, Lakey, Lee, Lent, Ricks, Schroeder, Taylor, and VanOrden.
These Senators had a second chance to partially redeem themselves by voting in favor of Senate Bill 1144, a modest school choice pilot program that would have granted more options to primarily low-income families. The bill passed the Senate but did not even receive a hearing in Chairman Yamamoto’s Republican-led House education committee, which killed another meager school choice bill earlier in the session.
The battle for school choice in Idaho is not a new one. For years, families and advocates have been pushing for more educational freedom in the state but have been met with resistance from those who prioritize the interests of the education establishment over the needs of students and families.
This is despite a long list of evidence that school choice improves academic outcomes for students, parents’ satisfaction with their children’s schooling, safety, and graduation rates, among other indicators.
The benefits of school choice are not lost on Idaho families, either. According to a recent poll by Morning Consult, 69% of Idahoans and 76% of school parents support education savings accounts and 69% support vouchers. These numbers are consistent with nationwide polling, which consistently shows strong support for school choice among parents of all backgrounds.
So, why are some lawmakers in Idaho standing in the way of progress? The reasons will vary based on who you ask, but one common excuse is that parents should pay out of pocket to send their children to private or alternative schools. For example, Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder said of Senate Bill 1038, “It was basically a handout.” Some families can afford to send their children to private schools in addition to paying for the monopoly system of public schools, but most families cannot.
Education choice changes this equation by funding students directly so that no one has to pay twice for their child’s education. It’s time to separate the financing of education from one public institution. As economist Milton Friedman argued, having an educated public does not require the government to establish one system of schools.
Those who voted against universal school choice in Idaho should be held accountable for their actions. Local Republican central committees have already begun passing resolutions establishing “Votes of No Confidence” in legislators for their anti-school choice positions, among other factors. So far, Rep. McCann, Yamamoto, Bundy, Sauter, and Wroten along with Sen. Schroeder received “Votes of No Confidence.”
It's time for Idaho to catch up with the rest of the nation and expand school choice options for families. By doing so, we can ensure that every child has access to a high-quality education, regardless of zip code or income level. This starts with the public electing more pro-school choice Republicans who prioritize students over the system.
The evidence in favor of school choice is clear, and the public support is there. It's time for lawmakers to prioritize the needs of students and pass universal school choice programs in Idaho. If lawmakers stay true to the Republican platform and voters’ wishes, Idaho can catch up to the rest of the nation next session.
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