School choice: Not a good choice

Readers: I wanted to share this column regarding the “school choice” proposal under consideration in the Idaho Legislature. My friends, Jerry and Carrie Scheid, have done a fine job of demonstrating the faults in the scheme. Their column ran in the Idaho Falls Post Register on February 4, 2023.

Jerry: What’s the Idaho Legislature up to now?

Carrie: One of the most controversial issues being discussed is “school choice.”

Jerry: What’s that?

Carrie: Some critics of public education want our Legislature to use taxpayer funds to pay for K-12 private schools or home schooling. Currently, tax dollars are used solely to fund public schools.

Jerry: That’s because the Idaho Constitution says “it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

Carrie: Proponents of privatizing education claim they need more choices. They aren’t happy with the public school system.

Jerry: But Idaho’s public school system already offers an abundance of choices. Did you know the conservative think tank “Heritage Foundation” ranks Idaho’s public education system third best in the nation for education choice?

Carrie: In addition to the state’s 707 traditional brick-and-mortar public schools, Idaho’s public system offers all kinds of charter schools, magnet schools, alternative schools and online schools.

Jerry: Wow.

Carrie: But the anti-public education Idaho Freedom Foundation claims Idaho’s public schools are failing students.

Jerry: Yet the Freedom Foundation’s conservative colleagues at the Heritage Foundation rate Idaho’s public education as the best in the nation for return on investment for taxpayers. They point out that Idaho ranks last in the country for per-pupil funding, but when compared nationally, it has above-average academic achievement. Sounds like our public teachers are doing a terrific job.

Carrie: Yup. So, I researched school choice and found lots of problems.

Jerry: Like what?

Carrie: Strike one: There is no accountability or transparency with private or home schools. There is no regulatory body like the State Board of Education or a publicly elected school board that ensures students meet specific academic achievements. In addition, 65% of Idaho’s private schools are religiously affiliated. The Idaho Constitution doesn’t allow public funds to be used for religious purposes.

Jerry: Strike two: In states that have experimented with public funds for private education, a supermajority went to kids who had never been enrolled in public schools. Basically, it siphoned off funds from public schools for kids already attending private schools.

Carrie: Strike three: If headcount were to drop in public schools, taxpayers would have to make up the difference. No wonder the Indiana Farm Bureau opposed school choice in their state.

Jerry: And over half of Idaho’s private schools are concentrated in just four of Idaho’s 44 counties: Ada, Canyon, Kootenai and Twin Falls. There are very few in rural counties; some have none.

Carrie: Unlike public schools, private schools get to choose who they accept. They don’t have to take children with disabilities, underachievers or kids with different religious beliefs.

Jerry: That leaves home schooling. While some parents can be excellent teachers, most don’t have the time or expertise.

Carrie: Idaho spends approximately $8,000 per public school pupil. Suppose the Idaho Legislature gave parents $6,000 per pupil to pay for home schooling. I can picture a lot of families, especially ones with multiple kids, seeing this as a financial windfall. And I sincerely doubt it would equal, never mind improve, their education outcomes over public schools.

Jerry: Who’s behind this attack on public education?

Carrie: Much of the funding comes from out-of-state groups such as Betsy Devos’s American Federation for Children. They spent $274,000 in the Idaho primary and general elections on pro-school privatization candidates.

Jerry: The Freedom Foundation is really pushing this hard. They don’t disclose their donors, so who knows where Freedom Foundation’s money is coming from? East Idaho right-wing politicos Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith serve on their board.

Carrie: Religious organizations are supportive because they operate two-thirds of Idaho’s private schools. But I doubt our Founding Fathers wanted public funds to support religious instruction.

Jerry: I think these groups underestimate Idaho’s dedication to an open, free and accountable public education system. Please contact your legislators and say no to public funds for private education.

Jerry is a retired farmer/rancher and native Idahoan. Carrie is a retired nonprofit administrator.

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1 thought on “School choice: Not a good choice”

  1. Enjoyed the “interview@ format of this newsletter. We need more texts like this to reach all citizens. Often articles are written at a high Lexile range and not accessible to the average citizen.

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