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You can't claim to support education choice while limiting options

It's a familiar refrain in the conversation over education reform, especially in the Mountain States. On the one hand, policymakers, activists, school leaders and even those running for office say they are in favor of education choice. On the other, they oppose expansion of education choice options.

A head-scratching phenomenon, to be sure - the equivalent of being allowed to buy any vehicle you want, so long as it's a black Ford.

For example, we often see comments from some policymakers about “wholeheartedly” supporting parents pursuing the education options they want for their children, while at the same time opposing the types of education choice reforms currently advancing in dozens of states across the country. Some even claim to be proud of choice, while actively opposing any more options.

It is true that existing options in Idaho currently include open enrollment public schools, charter schools, and magnet schools. But Idaho lags behind other states in providing additional choices including ideas such as Education Savings Accounts or tax credits that would help children advance education needs outside the government run system.

The number of states providing parents and students with the option for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), education choice tax credits, or an education tax scholarship has now grown to 29. Several states are also in the process of expanding their existing education choice programs to cover even more students. Here is the current map of the 29 states with these education choice options:

Idaho has fallen precipitously (nine spots in the past year alone) in The Heritage Foundation's yearly education report card. In fact, just this year, Idaho ranked 29th, behind even Vermont, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

Heritage writes:

"Idaho does well in allowing families the freedom to choose among charter schools and district schools, but could do much more to expand private education choice. Idaho respects the autonomy of homeschooling families. Idaho could improve its ranking by enacting a K–12 education savings account (ESA) policy and making it easier for charter schools to open and operate."

There are nearly 200 empirical studies that show the impact of permitting more options. More than 80% are positive.

No two children learn the same way. Education must constantly reform. Sooner or later, additional options will be available. The federal government may even step in. But every day lawmakers wait is a day another child may fall behind.

As Yoda famously noted in the Star Wars movies, when it comes to supporting education choice options for families and students: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

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