Students first – how education choice can improve outcomes in Idaho
No education policy is a panacea for perfect outcomes. Every system and every school will produce failures, and there will always be opportunity for improvement and lessons learned. Although Idaho’s constitution vests the legislature with authority and a mandate to provide education for Idaho children, it is parents who “have the fundamental right and duty to make decisions concerning their [children’s] education.”
Legislators can and should change the underlying incentives within Idaho’s education system to give parents and students more authority, choice, and equal opportunity to achieve literacy and workforce readiness.
“Education choice” simply means allowing some of a state’s education money to follow the student to the education method or school of their choice, rather than allotting all funds to the public school district where the student resides.
Education choice policies such as Education Savings Accounts shift decision-making power to those closest to the student (parents) who are best able to assess that student’s unique education needs. While some families can afford to opt out of the state-sponsored system, the majority cannot.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and Idaho case law would support the legislative creation of education savings accounts. Idaho parents should have the right to decide what is best for their own children, whether that be a traditional public school, a charter school, private school, homeschool or extra tutoring that can supplement any of the above.
The competition and innovation generated by education choice will require schools to be more responsive to student needs, allowing great schools to flourish and forcing poor schools to improve. A family is never worse off by having more than one education choice.
Idaho’s public school funding formula is rigid and complex. Inflexible, prescriptive funding systems are not connected to improving student outcomes.
From 2016 to 2022, Idaho’s school age population grew at an average rate of 2 percent annually. During the same period, public school enrollment growth averaged only 1.1 percent.
More than a third of Idahoans say they are not familiar with school choice.
Article 9, §1 (Idaho’s Uniformity Clause) creates a baseline duty for the state of Idaho, but it does not prohibit the state from promoting education through means outside of the public system. A legal argument based on Idaho’s Uniformity Clause is not likely to be successful before Idaho’s Supreme Court based on Idaho caselaw and legal precedent in other states.
As a result of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Idaho cannot fall back on its Blaine Amendment or the First Amendment Establishment Clause to justify prohibitions on public funding of religious schools.