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Who speaks for the kids?

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

When the Idaho Senate education committee heard an education choice bill this week, dozens of people signed up to testify – I was one of them.

Invited to do so by members of the committee, I thought it important to provide a viewpoint based on our research and facts. As the father of a special needs child, I also wanted to provide a personal perspective.

Unfortunately, time was cut short for many offering comments. Still, it took two days of committee meetings to get through all of the testimony. I listened intently to every person who spoke both in favor or opposed.

As we reached the end of the second day, it struck me – very few people were speaking on behalf of the children.

Of course, the lobbyists were there in full force, including the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho School Administrators association, and the beat went on and on. Time and time again we heard the argument of how the bill would or would not impact schools, and the money administrators have to spend. Too few times did we hear about how this would (or would not) help kids.

The disappointing truth is that kids don’t have a special interest group or union to offer testimony or insight. All they have is their parents – and some legislators.

Some parents found the time to offer their perspective.

Surrounded by her children and testifying remotely, Chantelle Holman reminded lawmakers “one size of education does not fit all children.”

Bessie Yeely brought her special needs child to the hearing and said she was concerned about the impact of the bill on his future.

Pointing to disappointing results, mother Nicole Trakel said “were asking for better choices.”

But the reality is those who spoke on behalf of the kids were outnumbered. Much of the argument became about the money instead of the issue of improving outcomes.

Mountain States Policy Center has always taken a look at this issue from the perspective of what can improve outcomes for all children. After all, the money that so many people worried about this week is supposed to fund their education. Whether you think we spend too little or too much on K-12, the funds don’t belong to any administrator or union.

The vast majority of education choice studies show a positive impact, not only for students who participate but also those who stay in the public school setting.

Education choice is not about closing public schools – in fact, public schools are part of education choice. Choice makes public schools better and will increase the amount of money we’re spending per student, per year. It may also have the effect of easing overcrowding in Idaho schools.

This isn’t about helping rich families either. Stats from the research show roughly half of the Arizona ed choice participants have never attended a private school before.

Whether it’s this particular bill or another, policymakers should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The goal is to advance more options, for more children, and improve educational outcomes for all.

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