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STOP The Gaslighting about Public Education

By: Doyle Beck

Senator Kevin Cook and Representative Stephanie Mickelsen wrote in a recent op-ed that “we see firsthand the results” of Idaho’s education system. They claim we already have school choice, so, heck, why bother expanding it more, especially given Idaho’s constitutional obligations to “public” schools? First, let’s examine the results to which they speak, and then let’s look at school choice, and finally, the reality of the state’s constitutional obligation.

In the Bonneville School District 93 and Idaho Falls District 91, which Cook and Mickelsen call “incredible” here are the most recent test scores: District 93 Idaho Standards Achievement Test showed ( a passing rate of 52 percent in English, 40 percent in math, and less than 38 percent in science. District 91 reported ( English proficiency at 48 percent, math at less than 38 percent, and science at about 35 percent. According to Senator Dave Lent, 20% of children entering the 9th Grade never graduate from High School, and only 1/3 of our population graduate from college.

Nowhere in the world would anyone call that “incredible.” On the whole, these results would be labeled as failing. And it is also what passes for normal on a statewide basis. Our local school districts are not an anomaly when it comes to test scores. Nor are Idaho’s government-run schools different from their peers across the country. In short, the public school system has been failing our kids for some time.

Parents are compelled to pay for their kids to attend public school. This puts non-public schools out of reach for many of our local families. Saying these parents have a choice is like saying you can buy your groceries wherever you want but you still have to pay for the spoiled vegetables offered at the government grocery store.

To solve this problem, more than a dozen states across the country allow parents to take advantage of tax credits, education savings accounts, and vouchers. These programs are popular because parents want an option other than government schools. In short, they want their money to follow the student to the education arrangement that best meets their needs. No longer are families, at least in those states, forced to pay for an education where the prospect of quality experience is a coin flip.

Those states also have constitutional obligations, the same as the one in Idaho, requiring that the state “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

As it turns out, courts have defended this position, the obligation for states is to ensure the existence and funding of the system. However, the system need not be confined to school buildings run and operated exclusively by the government. The system can also include private schools.

This concept is consistent with the beliefs espoused by the Republicans across the country and specifically in the Idaho GOP platform, which calls for the expansion of education choice.

Cook and Mickelsen complain that education choice means “We won’t know how your tax dollars will get used or the education a student receives.” Well, we know what students are getting now, and it isn’t great.

I trust the parents directing the funds to the school that best fits their child, shoot you never know the government-run schools may want to be attractive enough a parent would choose them.

It’s time to do what’s right for Idaho’s school children and their families. Let’s expand education choices in Idaho.


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