January 12, 2021
Little Chooses to Fund Systems, Not Students
By: Idaho Freedom Foundation Education Policy Analyst Anna K. Miller
Families need education options now more than ever during the coronavirus pandemic. Opposing choice, Gov. Brad Little opted to grow the public school monopoly instead of empowering families and students to select the education that best suits their needs, in Monday’s State of the State address.
Little claimed fealty to respecting taxpayers by spending their money as efficiently as possible. In the same breath Little made his commitments clear—his “highest priority area” is to give more tax dollars to the failing public education system. Little will carry out this commitment by funneling $30 million more taxpayer dollars into public schools to increase administrators’ and teachers’ salaries and operating expenses. This plan wrongly puts power in the hands of an institution rather than families.
As Little noted, students are falling behind in school, especially in literacy. The only way to address the different needs of families during the pandemic—and beyond—is for Idaho to fund students directly, rather than school districts.
This approach is precisely how other taxpayer initiatives are already funded. Consider food stamps which allow customers to choose any grocery store suited to their needs. If Albertsons does not offer the goods or services a family wants, they can take their food stamps to Whole Foods or WinCo. This type of choice is already the norm for Pell Grants in higher education and pre-kindergarten programs. Similarly, families with K-12 students should be able to take their education tax dollars to the school that best serves their needs.
Little’s education plan is accompanied by another problem—accountability for educators. As Little explains, Idaho needs to keep good teachers in classrooms. Let me be clear—excellent, well paid educators are vital to the success of any education system. Funneling more tax dollars into a failing system, however, is the least efficient way to reward excellent educators.
This year, nearly 99 percent of Idaho’s teachers ranked in the top two categories of performance evaluations. A real ratings system requires differentiation. The current ratings system provides no accountability because it does not connect teacher evaluations to student performance. Therefore the ratings system encourages mediocrity in the teaching profession and prevents school administrators from rewarding those teachers truly serving students’ needs and incentivizing struggling teachers to improve.
Little could have helped families and students by extending his Strong Families, Strong Students grant program which empowered thousands of Idahoans to make better educational choices for their children. Instead, he cowered to the pernicious myth of the underfunded school system and chose to further diminish parents’ rights over their child’s education.
Little got one thing right when he said, “We have a moral obligation to all our youngest citizens.” Conservatives should step directly into this opening by reminding our governor that schools exist to educate students—therefore they should be student centered.
Little could have focused on funding students. Instead, he chose to send more hard-earned tax dollars to a debased education system. Little clearly thinks parents will tolerate being dictated to, having their children caged into a one-size-fits-all system and left bereft of any options other than the mediocre promise that redistributing more of their wealth to public schools will finally work “this time.” Can you guess who will be affected the most severely? Poor and middle-income children whose parents cannot afford remedies to the failure of the public schools. Meanwhile teachers union coffers will continue to benefit from the public school monopoly. Isn’t this always the case?