February 2, 2022

Geoff Thomas, Wil Overgaard and Don Coberly: What will become of Idaho’s rural schools?

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Former Idaho school superintendents look at what a proposed voucher system would do to rural Idaho schools. They open with a look at vibrant local school sports, and then move on to the threat.

But, as any rural Idahoan call tell you, small-town schools are much more than sports teams and mascots. They’re about strong academics in support of community priorities, often in agriculture-related courses. They’re about college-prep offerings (dual credit courses funded by our legislature). They’re about professional-technical courses such as welding, construction, and automotive. They’re about small-town schools as the center of the community.

Contrast this with the dismal future envisioned by Wayne Hoffman and his Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF). IFF would love nothing better than to defund rural schools and replace them with… well, they have no idea. We hear allusions to vouchers and tax credits, “free market” solutions designed to improve “school choice”.

But, contrary to what Hoffman would have you believe, vouchers and tax credits would hurt rural public schools, and take rural school dollars to fund private school tuition for wealthy kids in the urban areas of Idaho. Almost three-quarters of Idaho’s private school students attend school in four counties: Ada (Boise), Canyon (Nampa), Twin Falls, and Bannock (Pocatello). And twenty Idaho counties have no private schools at all!

There is plenty of evidence that private school vouchers would harm small, rural schools, and especially disadvantage poor students and families in those districts. This story from Indiana, one of the states with a large voucher program, is just one of many examples, and affirms the damage that is done to rural schools by private school vouchers.

Hoffman and his cronies at IFF want to destroy Idaho public schools, rural and urban. “Public schools are grotesque… I don’t think government should be in the education business,” he has said.

Think about the implications of this radical point of view. What do we lose if Hoffman and his followers get their way? The special sense of community in rural towns will erode. The feeling of belonging will deteriorate. Small-town charm and connection, which we appreciate in Idaho, will become scarce. School jobs will disappear, and school districts in small towns are often the largest employers.

Read the full op-ed here.

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