The beauty of H294: It puts kids ahead of systems

Like many Idahoans, I celebrated last year when Gov. Brad Little created the Strong Families Strong Students program, which provided small grants to families whose kids need help.

Nearly 30,000 Idaho students utilized the original program and the financial assistance it provided for things like computers, tutoring, online classes, learning collaboratives, and more.

I was not surprised by the demand and by the way that students and their families embraced the ability to personalize part of their education to their unique interests and needs, For too long, education has been depersonalized, depriving kids of the chance to explore their own skills and talents.

That is why we founded Yes. Every Kid., the non-profit organization slammed in a recent op-ed by Rod Gramer and Jim Jones. Among the many things they got wrong is their inference that we’re some far-flung group with no ties to Idaho.

While I am the executive director, I am also the product of Fruitland Elementary School and I attended BYU-Idaho. My father is a product of Fruitland public schools and attended the University of Idaho.

We love Idaho, and it’s why my organization is so supportive of House Bill 294, which would extend Gov. Little’s vision, and create a permanent Strong Students program to continue helping families ensure their children receive a powerful and dynamic education.

I can’t imagine anyone would oppose giving help to families whose kids need it, particularly after the last year of education challenges, closures and outright failures.

That’s why I was surprised to read the op-ed from Jones and Gramer. They and other supporters of the institutional education bureaucracy argue that the Idaho Senate should reject this popular program on the basis that some of the providers might be privately owned business or private schools.

Jones, Gramer and their supporters favor one system over another, and because of that want to deny students and families the freedom to make education decisions outside of traditional systems.

That is the beauty of Gov. Little’s vision and the beauty of H294: It puts kids ahead of systems. It prioritizes kids, not adults, and gives every student the ability to receive an individualized education, regardless of where they go to school.

The bill builds on the model of successful Idaho programs like Advanced Opportunities, where students can spend state dollars to get a jump-start on their college education, and can spend that money wherever works best for them — including trade schools and private colleges like BYU Idaho.

Jones and Gramer also argue that this program would violate the mandate in the state constitution to provide a uniform school system. They are wrong, and they are ignoring a much bigger problem.

If Gramer and Jones are authentically concerned about a uniform system of public education, they should instead ask why kids in some public schools in Idaho get more money per pupil than kids in other public schools.

Idaho allocates funding based on the value of local property and teacher experience — not student needs — and it has resulted in a horribly inequitable system where students in Boise receive far more funding than students in my hometown of Fruitland.

We do not do that with public parks, with public healthcare or with social services, so why do we do it with education?

H294 is a small step forward toward correcting that inequity.

While there are legitimate arguments that the state is failing to fulfill its moral obligations to provide every kid equal access to a public education, a $750 grant is not among them.

Like most Idahoans, I believe that every kid should each be able to discover his or her passions and interests, develop their skills, and then learn how to leverage those skills in ways that allow them to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

It should not matter where that education takes place, who provides the education, or what the tax status or religious affiliation of the educator might be.  We should value learning for the sake of learning and helping kids grow into their best selves.

Everything that seeks to turn us away from that vision is just a set of special interest talking points that we should discard as ugly, unproductive, divisive political nonsense. I urge the Idaho Legislature to do just that and support House Bill 294.

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