The Idaho School Boards Association (ISBA) will vote on a resolution opposing the school election. The resolution perpetuates several myths commonly used to defend government monopoly. Member school districts will vote on the resolution at the ISBA annual convention on November 11th.
This isn’t the first time ISBA has shown its cards. One of their representatives testified against HB 669, a bill that would have authorized 65% of Idaho families to use a portion of their students’ public education funding for a tailored education. ISBA also opposed an early repetition of the strong student scholarship program, which would have helped families offset some of the costs of private schools.
Adoption of this resolution would solidify ISBA’s position to protect the public school monopoly over the needs and desires of Idaho families who support programs such as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), vouchers and tax credit scholarships.
Myth 1: School choice would destroy district and charter public schools, especially in rural areas.
The ISBA’s proposed resolution argues that choosing a private school would “do irreparable harm” to public schools, particularly in rural areas. But the goal of education policy should be to provide the best education possible, not to support any particular institution.
Nevertheless, school choice does not devalue public schools. When a student graduates from a public school on a school-choice scholarship, the district retains a portion of the funds earmarked for that student’s education. As a result, a public school’s funding per student increases as the school keeps money for students it no longer teaches. Imagine if Albertsons could keep part of a family’s grocery budget after the family decided to go and shop at WinCo. That would be a great offer for Albertsons, and it’s the same offer public schools get through a school choice program.
Fears that the competition will kill public schools are unfounded. Competition doesn’t kill public schools; it improves them. More than two dozen studies have found that competition resulting from school choice programs improves academic outcomes in public schools.
Additionally, the experiences of other states indicate that school choice would not destroy the public school system in rural Idaho. Public schools still operate in states that offer a choice of private schools but have significant rural populations, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
Rural communities have significant incentives to respond to school choices. It’s no secret that a one-size-fits-all education system doesn’t work for every student. In rural communities where the only conventional option for students is to attend their assigned district school, families whose children are left behind in government schools need and deserve other options.
While some rural areas may not be able to support a charter or private school, families could benefit from school choice grants by participating in options such as microschools or pods, homeschooling, homesteading, online education, and more.
For example, in rural Bonners Ferry, Idaho, the Flintstones benefit from homeschooling. Through “a mix of life schooling, classic literature, and plenty of self-directed discovery,” her children learn a variety of skills that they could not otherwise learn in the public school system.
Rural students, like students in more densely populated areas, deserve the chance to access educational options that meet their individual needs and goals.
Myth 2: Private and church schools are not accountable.
The ISBA’s draft resolution claims that the choice of private school would give money to “unaccountable private and parish schools.”
Private schools are accountable to the highest form of accountability: the parents. Parents know and love their children better than anyone. If they are dissatisfied with their children’s education, they can deregister them and register them elsewhere. Therefore, private schools must provide quality education or else they risk losing their clientele.
Meanwhile, in practice, public schools are not accountable to parents. While private schools have struggled to return to face-to-face classes during the pandemic, public schools have remained closed at the behest of teachers’ unions. This showed how mandatory collective bargaining laws force public schools to yield to teachers’ unions and their demands about the needs of families and students.
Public schools also suffer from a lack of democratic and educational accountability.
Opponents of freedom of education sometimes say public schools are held accountable through elections. However, public schools are not democratically accountable because school board elections are held off-cycle, meaning they occur on a different date than other elections. Voters do not select school board trustees at the same time as other state and national offices, so fewer voters turn out in the elections. Low turnout means that school boards do not reflect the values of the whole community, but only of the few who turn up to vote, namely members of teachers’ unions and other interest groups.
Public schools are also not accountable for their academic performance as they receive no negative consequences for low student performance. Student test scores have been flat or falling for years, yet lawmakers continue to significantly increase public school spending. Recent SAT results show that student scores in math, reading and writing have been declining since at least 2016. Idaho’s results for the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show decreases from 2019, although Idaho has greatly increased spending promoting student literacy, results have not improved.
Contrary to what ISBA believes, responsibility begins with parents, not government officials.
Myth 3: Idaho students and families have adequate choices within the existing public school system.
The ISBA resolution maintains that Idaho families have ample choice within the public school monopoly and that parents who have the financial means can send their children to private school.
ISBA only supports decisions that keep families trapped within the existing monopoly system. As an affiliate of public schools, ISBA has strong incentives to resist any competition that lessens its control over the system.
Families disagree with ISBA and demand more educational opportunities. Recent polls show that 70% of school parents support vouchers while 75% support ESAs. During the 2022 regular term, many parents and grandparents expressed support for the proposed Hope and Opportunity scholarship program, which would have allowed children to be placed with money into an educational environment better suited to their needs.
Forms of public school choice such as charter and magnet schools are a step in the right direction. But these choices exist only in the current monopoly system. That doesn’t suit every family. Families should not be forced to stay in a system that is inconsistent with their needs and values.
Middle- and upper-class families could afford alternative education in the private sector, but access to excellent education should be possible for every family, regardless of income.
After all, the money allocated to each student’s education does not belong to the schools; It is designed to educate students, and families should be able to choose the educational environment that works best for them.
Myth 4: Choosing a school hurts students’ academic performance.
The ISBA resolution also claims that “in other areas of the country that have instituted voucher programs, student achievement has suffered, particularly among the children who receive vouchers.” The claim ignores the proven track record of students participating in school choice programs and the academic improvement observed in both public school students and scholarship recipients when competition between schools is encouraged.
Of the 28 studies that looked at the effects of school choice programs on public school students’ test scores, 25 found a positive effect. Only one study found no visible effect and only two identified a negative effect.
Not only can school choice improve the performance of students in public schools, but it also benefits students participating in choice programs. Of 17 studies that examined whether students who participated in a school choice program had higher test scores than students who did not, 11 found that they did, while only four found no discernible difference and three did This coupon Participants performed worse than public school students. Studies also suggest that student scores improve the longer they participate in the school choice program.
In addition, participants benefit in other ways from their choice of school. For example, several studies have found that “voucher and tax credit grantees are more likely to graduate, enroll in college, and remain in college than their public school peers.”
Students suffer from declining or stagnant academic performance under the existing system, but school choice promises to improve academic performance for all students.
Given the ISBA’s track record of opposing school choice programs like Hope and Opportunity Scholarships, the draft resolution seems likely to pass. Idaho’s students and families deserve the freedom to choose an education that meets their individual needs. Policymakers who care about providing the best education for every student in Idaho should take ISBA recommendations with caution and put student needs ahead of the system.