Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Empower Idaho’s students through enhanced educational freedom

This year educational freedom swept across the United States, with over 15 states establishing or expanding access to private educational choice programs such as  Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). With access to publicly funded scholarship accounts, more American families have been able to opt out of the traditional public education system and employ the funds for various private educational expenses, including special needs therapies, tutoring, and private school tuition. It’s time Idaho joined the movement.

Choice and educational freedom are not a foreign concept in Idaho. In 2022, the conservative Heritage Foundation recognized the state as a top-five state in its Education Freedom Report Card. Particularly, Idaho’s commitment to its robust public education choice program stands out as Idaho’s Open Enrollment law is widely considered one of the best in the country, allowing students and families to access public schools within or outside of their assigned district if there is available capacity.

Yet Idaho lags behind other states when it comes to private education options. Without any kind of private school choice programs, the state restricts families without the financial means for private education to attend government schools. In the forthcoming 2024 legislative session, Idaho’s policymakers should seize the opportunity to expand educational freedom by granting every family in the state access to an Education Savings Account so they can access more educational options.

Currently, Idahoan students perform well academically compared to many other states, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. However, there is plenty of room for improvement as only around a third of both fourth and eighth grades were proficient in reading and math in 2022. ESAs can help improve these numbers by placing educational funding in the hands of those who know the students best: their parents. The evidence is clear, too; when families are allowed to customize their child’s education to align with their unique needs, education attainment and test scores improve, as nearly every study done on the impact of private education choice shows positive results

For instance, rural families often lack access to courses and extracurricular offerings compared to their peers who live in more populated areas. ESAs could help families afford broadband costs for innovative online courses and curricula that local public schools may not have. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but increasing access to a broader spectrum of educational offerings actually benefits students who stay in traditional public schools. 26 out of the 29 studies examining the impact of implementing a private school choice program on public school student test scores have demonstrated positive effects. It only makes sense that this would be the case as the competitive dynamics of school choice incentivize public schools to enhance their offerings to retain students and the associated funding.

By embracing private school choice, Idaho can improve the quality of public schools through more rigorous market competition and benefit thousands of students who deserve the advantages of a customizable K-12 education system. 2024 represents a crucial juncture for Idaho. If Idahoans can sway the policymakers who represent them by raising their voices in support of establishing an ESA program, it can bring positive change by recognizing the inherent dignity of every Idahoan student, benefiting them and the state for years to come.

Cooper Conway

Cooper Conway

Cooper Conway is an alumnus of Boise State University and a State Beat Fellow at Young Voices, where he focuses on education reform. Follow him on Twitter @CooperConway1

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday