Encourage Idaho’s rise in school choice

Remember when the only education style we had was “one-size-fits-all?” Students went to the school in their neighborhood and if it wasn’t compatible with their learning styles, they had to learn to conform and just do their best.

Thankfully, it’s not that way any more.

Steven Thayn
Sen. Steven Thayn

In Idaho people value our individual freedoms. This includes the freedom to select schools and learning opportunities we know will help our children thrive. Parents should be encouraged to choose the best educational environments for their children.

Across the country, as well as in our state, education landscapes are diversifying to provide effective education options for all children. In Idaho, families can consider many different avenues for their children—public, charter, private, parochial, magnet, alternative or virtual online schools.

Of the 314,367 school-aged students in Idaho, one in five Idaho students is enrolled in a school of their choice, and the number continues to grow. According to the Idaho Department of Education, this statistic breaks down to include; 20,000 students in charter schools, 4,500 students in alternative public schools, more than 16,500 students in magnet programs and another 28,000 students enrolled in home schools or private schools.

National School Choice Week will take place from January 25 through January 31. During this week, more than 10,200 unique events and activities will happen across the country to make citizens more aware of the options available in education. Each year, bright yellow scarves flood the streets of state capitals in support of school choice.

This year, Idaho is standing out from the crowd. The Gem State is being recognized as one of the top 15 states in the nation for embracing school choice and providing opportunity to students.

As we hear data about how Idaho education is ranked dead last, it’s important to focus on what is going well and see how we can provide more chances for students to succeed.

Have you noticed a rise in choice schools throughout Idaho? It’s a trend happening nationally, simply because of supply and demand. More families are actively choosing the best education environments for their children and it has spurred other parents, those without options, to demand more choices for their own children.

For example, enrollment in Idaho’s 50 public charter schools has doubled from roughly 10,000 students during the 2007 school year, to more than 20,000 students this year. These charter schools range in specialties from the arts to science, technology, education and math (STEM). Just a few years ago, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) and Khan Academy in Idaho were not available to students.

There are outstanding schools throughout the state. North Idaho STEM Charter Academy in Rathdrum, for instance, carries a consistent focus on science, technology, engineering and math throughout all classes. Teachers at the academy help motivate children by creating interdisciplinary, hands-on projects that allow students to really connect with their subjects. The school cultivates a culture of curiosity and helps students develop their passions — regardless of ability levels. By connecting students to the learning styles they work best with, the school helps kids prosper. It’s a great model for any Idaho school.

We need to focus on providing the best learning environment for children. We know that every student thrives in a different setting. Providing multiple options will open doors that lead to success.

I urge all Idahoans to learn what education options are available throughout the state and help me celebrate National School Choice Week.

Sen. Steven Thayn represents District 8 and is a member of the Senate Education Committee.