Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Expanding Education Choice is a Win-Win for Idaho Policymakers

Cooper Conway

Another legislative session in Idaho has come and gone without comprehensive education choice, but the status quo is not here to stay. 

This year, multiple state legislatures listened to their constituents by advancing and passing private education choice bills, pushing America’s K-12 system into the future. Unfortunately, Idaho ostensibly again failed to join them. This session, lawmakers voted against HB 447, a tax credit bill designated for education expenses, despite broad support for education choice from voters across the state. 

The bill would have allowed an estimated 8,000 families to receive a $5,000 tax credit that would have lowered the barriers for families to afford private school tuition, tutoring, transportation, and other designated private education expenses. Given the growing popularity of education choice, lawmakers who want to secure their position in the state capital should course correct to make education freedom a reality in the Gem State.  

Idaho’s legislators already know a one-size-fits-all traditional public education system does not work. Last year, Idaho policymakers crafted the nation’s premier open enrollment law, allowing students to transfer into any public school with open seats. During this legislative session, they continued to back public school choice by reducing barriers so that the charter school sector could continue flourishing in the Gem State. 

With so much support for increasing access to alternative public education models, why not make private schools more accessible as well? 

The logical extension of public school choice should be private education choice in the form of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). ESAs directly fund families, not the public education system, by allowing parents to designate which education services — such as tutoring or special needs therapies — best serve their child. Still, too many Idahoan legislators impede the progress that private education choice programs like ESAs can bring students through increased test scores, educational attainment, civic values, and safety

Luckily, it’s not too late for Idaho legislators to right their wrongs. But they should act quickly. Mere weeks ago, Texan voters replaced ten incumbent state legislators who didn’t represent their wishes in the statehouse on the issue of education choice. The message Texan voters sent by electing those who empower families and not an archaic K-12 public school system was heard loud and clear across the state. 

School choice’s popularity is not limited to Texas. Recent EdChoice polling shows that the American “public is over six times as likely to support ESAs than oppose them.” Moreover, support for private education choices in the form of ESAs also crosses political, racial, and ethnic barriers. The story is no different in Idaho. 

Polling by various firms, including 3D Strategic Decisions, JMC Analytics, and EdChoice, show that expanding education freedom is popular among various voter groups in Idaho. Even a statewide survey from my alma mater at Boise State University shows a majority of Idahoans would support a proposal allowing families to access $8,000 of education funding for their child to be used on private school tuition.

Idaho policy makers should take the hint. Saving their position in Boise does not mean they have to adversely impact students or go against their values. The legislature’s broad support of public school choice is a sign that policymakers know relying on the traditional public education sector alone to serve the various educational needs of Idahoan students is short-sighted because education is an all-hands-on-deck endeavor. 

Parents know this, and policymakers should continue to recognize they know it too by supporting ESAs that lower financial barriers for all families who want access to the best education possible for their children. 

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

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