Column: In Defense of Educational Choice in Idaho

My bi-weekly column ran in today’s Moscow-Pullman Daily News in which I address educational choice in Idaho. 

It’s ironic people who are “pro-choice” are only for choice when it comes to murdering a baby but nowhere else. 

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I want to respond to Marty Trillhaase’s editorial “Nothing subtle will stop a school voucher bill.” Trillhaase despairingly quotes Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman who supports “offering real education freedom that empowers families by allowing them to choose school options that best suit their children.” I’m guessing Trillhaase is pro-choice, but not when it comes to education.

First, I want to disabuse him of the idea that Idahoans don’t spend enough money on K-12 education. According to the Idaho State Department of Education, Idaho taxpayers funded $7,591 per K-12 pupil in 2022. And Idaho just boosted education spending by an additional $410 million, bumping it up to $8,888 per student at the state level. Additionally, K-12 schools receive $2,755 per pupil from the federal government, with Idaho property taxes adding on another $2,266. That makes a total of $13,909 per K-12 pupil per year, about 24% of the average Idahoan’s annual salary of $58,900.

But since Trillhaase’s editorial was posted in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, let’s consider the high-priced education we subsidize in Moscow. Moscow’s median household income is only $51,300 per year (lower than the state average). Yet Latah County has the fourth highest property taxes in all of Idaho. And if you live in the MSD taxing district, you are paying the highest taxes in the entire state of Idaho.

You can thank progressives for attempting to tax us into prosperity. MSD receives $14,630 per student per year. Trillhaase’s complaint that we’re spending too little on K-12 education is bogus.

Second, Trillhaase quotes Article IX of the Idaho Constitution: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people…”

The Boise legislative working committee reported “only 40% of Idaho students are proficient in math, only 55% in reading across all grades statewide, and only 29% of Idaho’s high schoolers are meeting college readiness benchmarks.” If Trillhaase really believes that the stability of a republican form of government depends mainly upon the intelligence of the people, the public school system is ensuring just the opposite.

Trillhaase complains that there would be no accountability for non-government schools spending taxpayers’ money. Look at all those failing grades above: only the government could spend $14,000 per child per year, have failing marks across the board, and then have the audacity to demand more money while demonizing those who succeed.

With an environment that sees teachers secretly encouraging students to change their gender, and sees girls being forced into locker rooms with boys wearing skirts — all while belittling concerned parents — it has become painfully clear that government schools are more institutions of social reengineering than they are educational institutions.

Article IX continues, “…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.” It does not say that the Idaho legislature may exclusively fund public schools.

In a previous Op-Ed (“Moscow schools do not need more facilities, funding”), I endorsed Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) where the money follows the child, not the system.

If we adopted Arizona’s K-12 funding model, the Idaho legislature would continue to follow Article IX and fund public schools. But anyone who wanted to opt out for a different educational experience would receive about $8,000 per student per year (90% of state base-level support).

This would allow parents to choose the best K-12 educational option for each child, whether vo-tech, micro-school, co-op, tutoring, remote learning, private school, homeschool, or any other educational services that fit their needs.

Is it legal? Yes. Arizona has similar constitutional language as Idaho, and the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled ESAs are neutral toward religion and are therefore constitutional.

Educational choice is a win for parents, kids, and taxpayers. If government schools could provide a superior education with $14,630 per pupil per year than an alternative school with $8,888, parents would keep their kids in the government schools. But the educational industrial complex won’t allow itself to be put into a position where it is judged on merit, because the system has just enough self-awareness to know that it would buckle under any intelligent analysis of its benefits.