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Free markets, education and short-sightedness

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

During the lengthy debate over Idaho Senate Bill 1038 on the Idaho Senate floor on Monday, Senator Carrie Semmelroth used an unusual argument to explain her no vote.

Senate Bill 1038 was the first bill of the current Idaho session to call for Education Savings Accounts. We're expecting to see more in the coming days.

Most of the discussion has been over the budget, or whether the state has adequate education choice options right now, or whether the state has a responsibility to change its funding in the wake of lackluster results.

But Senator Semmelroth turned part of her remarks into a rebuke of free markets, saying:

There's a bit of irony in government - which has and spends the unlimited resources of taxpayers - concluding that a market model won't work because it just costs too much.

The suggestion that the only motivating force in a free market is money is not only very shortsighted - it's just not true.

It's important to point out what has happened in other states under an ESA model. In Arizona, for example, 58% of students using choice programs are special needs. Why is this? It's because ESA's are not just about private school tuition - they are also an important tool for families to use to supplement their child's education.

Free markets are the most revolutionary force for change the world has ever known. They are all about providing creative solutions to address challenges.

Throughout the pandemic, educators across the country used the free market to open micro-schools, learning pods and a host of other schooling options that uniquely fit their qualifications and a student's needs. Now some school districts are taking advantage of this pandemic-era invention.

A decade ago, you would have been called crazy if you predicted teachers would open small schools at their dining room table in 2021. Three decades ago, few predicted the arrival of online education. The demand arose, and the marketplace provided.

Meantime, a century ago, students gathered in a school house, at desks, facing a chalkboard. This seems to be the only education model that hasn't changed.

It is very shortsighted to suggest the free market just can't address issues related to education. As we saw during the pandemic, if you give them a chance, educational models will emerge. Some will succeed and some will fail. But the options that struggle won't stay options for very long. And the options that don't innovate and change will also have a short lifespan.

As the father of a special needs child, I know that the marketplace will provide the best opportunity to find solutions that fit his very specialized needs. It won't come from a system that simply provides a one size fits all service model.

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