Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

School choice is about students

Recent articles and editorials have grossly mischaracterized the realities of school choice in Idaho and across the country. The talking points are sadly not new, joining a long line of school choice deniers advocating for the continuation of the status quo without regard to what may be best for the kids being taught. Simply put, this is not an “us against them” scenario as the opinions make it out to be.

As school choice supporters, we are not out to dismantle public schools. As parents we want the best for our children, and that means options. Indeed, traditional public schools are one of many options that a parent should consider along with magnet schools, public charter schools, home schooling and private schools. We want our schools to fit our kids, not our kids fitting the schools.

In the past 4 years, Idaho has appropriated records amounts into traditional education – which we enthusiastically supported. It is an extreme position to say that the legislature is forbidden to look at other options for our education solutions.

School choice is about freeing families to make education decisions that work, instead of forcing them into a one-size-fits-all system. It is wrong to assume that every child can excel in a traditional school format. It is equally wrong to assume that every child can excel in private, charter, or alternative schools. The power of education freedom lies in allowing each family to access the school that works for them instead of forcing them into a system based on their ZIP code.

Despite the claims, the data supports school choice. Many empirical studies and the thousands of students nationwide show the reality – improved academic outcomes for students participating in school choice programs, not to mention better life outcomes, higher satisfaction with education, and the opportunity to escape from bullying and other challenges. Importantly, participants in school choice programs nationally are overwhelmingly from low-income communities likeliest to be struggling within the traditional system.

The idea that all school choice proponents want to and will harm public schools is not only false – it’s soundly disproven throughout the country and in Idaho. When Idaho allowed families to pick which public school their child could attend, traditional education balked. The result was better and more innovative schools. When Idaho allowed for charter schools, again traditional education characterized it as hurting education. In fact, it did not. Studies have shown that school choice improves academic outcomes for students remaining in public schools. Competition is a tide that lifts all boats.

Moreover, school choice is fundamentally bipartisan. The first school choice program was championed by a Democrat in Milwaukee, and this fall two high-profile Democrats successfully ran for Governor in support of school choice for their states. What’s more, 68% of Democrats support school choice policies.

Importantly, it’s a system that Idahoans want. State polling shows that 67% of Idaho adults, and 75% of parents with school-age children, support education savings accounts (ESA). ESAs would give families control over an account that can be used to individualized education for their students. This could mean tuition at a non-public school, tutoring services, supplementary curriculum, transportation costs to school, or other pre-approved education expenditures. In essence, ESAs fund students directly, instead of systems, and they’re a broadly popular idea.

Students will continue to be our priority during this legislative session. Parents are demanding better. We will be working hard to give Idahoans the education freedom they deserve so that all students are in a learning environment that meets their needs.

Wendy Horman and Lori Den Hartog

Wendy Horman and Lori Den Hartog

Sen. Lori Den-Hartog is in her fifth term in the Idaho Senate and Rep. Wendy Horman is in her sixth term in the Idaho House. They can be reached at: [email protected] [email protected]

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