BOISE During "Education Week" at the Idaho State Capitol, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra requested a 7.5 percent increase in the public education budget over last year, for a total request of $1,577,904,100. Idaho's eight colleges and universities presented their budget proposals to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee and updated the education committees on their activities.
But also during “Education week” was a rally for school choice, held on the steps of the Idaho State Capitol.
Parents, their children, educators, and lawmakers showed up for the rally sporting matching yellow scarves and signs, some of which read, “I trust parents.” The rally was in support of private schools as well as public charters and traditional public schools.
Marvin Winter, who attended the private school Grace Lutheran and whose granddaughter attends American Heritage Charter School, said he supports school choice because of the variety of focuses it allows schools to have.
“I believe it’s a good idea to have a choice for different schools, not that public education is bad or good,” Winter said.
Another at the rally was a parent of children who went through the public school system. He said two of his kids have ADHD and would have been better served at Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, the charter school he teaches at now.
Rep McCrostie, a traditional public school teacher, said he supports the concept of public charter schools but questions the background of some of the charter schools in Idaho.
McCrostie said he taught in Gooding for a year and that North Valley Academy, a charter school, was in the works at the time.
He said he heard from community members that there was a schism in the community over its creation.
“I was sitting through the whole year watching my students get divided over a school that wasn’t really doing anything new or innovative,” McCrostie said.
Sen Shawn Keough said she definitely supports having a wide variety of schooling options available to students.
“I think Idaho has a good system that allows for parents to have choices,” Keough said. “We are permissive and supportive of home schooling, we have a state-sponsored charter school program, we have private schools, and we have public schools.”
Keough said Idaho has fewer requirements on home schooling than nearby states like Washington and that she supports those freedoms because of the robust home schooling population they have created.
Jenny Ball, parent of three children in the Blackfoot Charter, said she likes the fewer but longer class periods and the smaller class size.
But Ball said she was also in support of something many others at the rally were there to support – a “money follows the student” model to support private schools. This could come in the form of a voucher system, a tax credit or specialized scholarships and the degree of state involvement on standards varies depending on who you ask.
Rep Sage Dixon said his position on school choice is that it is imperative for education in Idaho that it offers a wider variety of options for parents and students to achieve the education that parents think is necessary for their students.
“I think it will help encourage the education industry as a whole to improve and serve the students better and provide better education,” Dixon said.
He said he is not certain vouchers would work, and that scholarships might be the best solution.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said she supports this model and would like to see legislation on the table.
“I support the parents’ right to choose,” Ybarra said. “It’s not about what’s best for adults, it’s about what’s best for children.”
McCrostie, who was cautiously in favor of charters, said he would definitely oppose a voucher system.
“If you have a private school with a religious structure behind it, if we’re taking public tax dollars and putting them in those kinds of settings, I think that’s dangerous and I think it treads upon separation of church and state.”
Ybarra said she is not concerned that funding for education will end up in the wrong place.
“As the Superintendent of Public Instruction, it’s important that I know exactly where the money is going – that it goes directly to our students in Idaho,” she said.
Dixon said he is not concerned about sending state funds to religious K-12 schools on the precedent in higher education where the state grants scholarships like the opportunity scholarship to students attending religious colleges and universities.
Keough’s concerns were less with the state sponsoring religion, and more with ensuring the quality of the public schools.
“To me it comes down to whether or not that takes away funding for our public schools,” Keough said. “If the funding for that, whether it’s vouchers or tax credit, would jeopardize funding for the public K-12 system, then I would not be supportive.”
She said she would support private school funding but only if it used a different funding stream.
“Our constitution requires us to have a public K-12 school system and provide an opportunity for every child to get an education in Idaho and that is our first and foremost responsibility as a legislature,” Keough said.