Restoring confidence in K-12 public education won’t be easy, here are some places to start – Idaho Statesman | Team Cansler


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Expanding school choices and improving school budget transparency will help restore public confidence in public education, writes the director of the Mountain States Policy Center.

Expanding school choices and improving school budget transparency will help restore public confidence in public education, writes the director of the Mountain States Policy Center.

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The results of the general election continue to move through Congress, state legislatures and school boards across the country. Exit polls show that public education was one of the top issues on the minds of voters – especially parents.

The question is what happens now that the election is over? After years of COVID shutdowns and heartburn about the school curriculum, will it be possible to restore some confidence in K-12 schools?

I would submit the answer is… maybe. It won’t be easy, but educators and lawmakers can take immediate steps to move things in the right direction.

The first step must be more choice for parents. There are different ways to achieve this. Arizona is the first state to allow full and universal education savings accounts. These tools allow parents to access at least a portion of the dollars provided by the state to fund their child’s education.

Parents can keep their child in the public school they support, or if that option doesn’t work well, they can use the money to go elsewhere. The money would follow the student, not just go into the system. This is a particularly important tool for students with special needs.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little recently signed into the Empowering Parents program, which provides eligible families with funds to use toward education spending to help students recover from learning losses caused during the pandemic . Tens of thousands of parents have already registered.

In the interest of the students, the political decision-makers should look for other ways to create more educational freedom. It’s no longer just an idea – it’s a necessity.

The second step in restoring trust in public schools is equally important – transparency.

Have you ever tried reading a school district budget? They’re often a maze of numbers and legal jargon – if you can even find them. Depending on the county, they may be hidden on websites and only accessible if you know where to look.

When you finally find the document, it can be very difficult to read and understand – sometimes hundreds of pages long with dozens of accounts.

Without an accounting degree, the average parent or taxpayer cannot take the time to read through and understand all of the details. Principals know that. So do the legislators.

So why not try to fix it?

One policy idea is a public school transparency law that would require all public school districts, both on the front page of their budget and on the front page of the district’s main website, to clearly report six simple things: (1) the total amount of dollars spent , (2) how much is spent per student per year, (3) the percentage of dollars going into the classroom, (4) the average administrator salary and benefits, (5) the average teacher salary and benefits, and (6) the Ratio of administrators to teachers to students.

Very little additional work would be required to provide this data and make it accessible on paper and online. Most counties already have it hidden somewhere in their budget records. They know where to look while parents and taxpayers can get lost.

Parents and taxpayers can see this data and come to the conclusion that their school districts need more resources. Others may see it and feel that not enough is being done to spend money in education. Regardless, the community will have a broader understanding of the results achieved and what changes – if any – need to be made.

In many areas, voters used their ballots to advocate for change, particularly in K-12 public schools. Elected officials have to pull through.

Chris Cargill is President and CEO of the Mountain States Policy Center, an independent, free market think tank based in Idaho. Online at

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