ESAs have been touted as a conservative issue, but Homeschool Idaho believes that ESAs are anything but conservative. Here are five reasons why ESAs should not be supported by people who consider themselves to be conservative.

First, Idaho conservatives have long held to a tradition of limited government.

Conservatives have desired to conserve the rights of the people by limiting government so as to create the least impact upon people’s lives. Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) create new law and expand the Idaho Department of Education by providing them with new duties, thus expanding and not limiting government.

Second, Idahoans have traditionally practiced personal financial responsibility.

We understand that it is our duty to pay taxes to the government and if such taxes are not paid, that the government has the authority to seize our property, our liberty, or both. Once the money leaves our paychecks or hands, it ceases to be our money and can no longer be earmarked for personal use. It is collected into the government pot, over which we have no personal control. It becomes the responsibility of legislatures to direct those tax dollars toward the greatest public good. Individual taxpayers are however, free to use the services which the lawmakers are mandated to fund with the tax dollars we provide them.

It is also a parent’s responsibility and right to direct the education and upbringing of their minor children. This language was derived from the landmark 1925 Supreme Court decision in Pierce vs. Society of Sisters and which is embedded in Idaho’s Parental Rights Statute.

The Idaho Constitution mandates that the Legislature provides sufficient funding to properly operate only our public school system. Beyond this, legislators have a moral responsibility to do whatever is necessary to ensure that these schools produce the best possible results and are held accountable to the taxpayer whose taxes are appropriated for this purpose. When the majority of Idaho parents have strong objections to the policies and agenda of the public school system, it is the Legislature’s duty to effect the necessary change to fix the existing problems in the current system, not simply expand it and call the said expansion a solution. It seems the height of fiscal irresponsibility to give the Department of Education, under whose watch the current model of education has collapsed, more money with which to create a new model for them to break. Taxpayers bear a personal responsibility to require results and accountability from our public schools. Read more reporting on this issue from AP News, US News, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the National Center for Education Statistics

Furthermore, as responsible citizens, parents should not be asking lawmakers to make further demands of our neighbor’s tax burden by requiring them to fund the personal choice to educate our children in a manner that is beyond our ability to afford without government assistance. When we ask our neighbors to fund our education choice, we are in essence asking for public assistance through a redistribution of wealth, which is definitely not a conservative ideal.

Third, conservatives have always valued individual liberty.

When government provides private schools, and homeschools, with taxpayer dollars which were originally appropriated for the public school system that they are constitutionally mandated to fund, then taxpayers have the right to demand accountability for those dollars. There have been numerous examples of taxpayer funds being fraudulently spent and inappropriately applied through ESA programs in other states, and microgrants issued here in Idaho.

  • In 2020, Idaho awarded a lucrative no-bid contract to a company to administer and distribute funds from the federal CARES Act through the Strong Families, Strong Students program, which has yet to account for $7 million dollars of those funds. The administrator ended up receiving in excess of $3.8 million taxpayer dollars.
  • In 2022 the Empowering Parents grant was administered through a different company, which provided parents with less flexibility than the Strong Families, Strong Students grants, due to all transactions having to occur through a captive marketplace launched five months behind schedule. The seven-member parent advisory committee charged with suggesting changes has still not been appointed. $20 million of the allocated $30 million has yet to be dispersed.
  • In 2018 more than $700,000 in Arizona public ESA funds were fraudulently spent on cosmetics and clothing according to an Auditor General report. The state failed to recover almost all of the money that was misspent. Some parents pocketed the ESA money and sent their kids to public schools, essentially double-dipping.
  • In 2020, program mismanagement resulted in over 7,000 participants in Arizona’s ESA program having their private information released by an Arizona Department of Education data breach. The families involved were not informed and learned about the breach through news reports. This resulted in a violation of student privacy laws.
  • In 2020, over a half million dollars in GEER funds dispersed through the Bridge the Gap program in Oklahoma were fraudulently spent on things other than education expenses. The administrator of the funds blamed the state for the lack of scrutiny over purchases. You can read more reporting on this fraudulently spending through the OCPA, the Norman Transcript, and the Oklahoma City Free Press

Fourth, conservatives in Idaho, like many other states, believe in state sovereignty.

Why then would they want to further UNESCO’s Global and Inclusive Plan for Education, slated for completion by 2030? UNESCO transparently states in their Global Education Monitoring Report that achieving this goal would allow for government control of every educational option through regulations and accountability measures tied to public funding. ESAs create an ever-expanding education monopoly, entangling private and homeschools under the control of the single system which funds them.

Finally, conservatives believe in free market solutions.

Public/private partnerships are not representative of a free market system. Once money is injected from the government into a private company, organization or school, the business to which the funds were given acquires a leg up over wholly-private businesses that were not able, or chose not to, capitalize on government handouts.

Let’s take a look at another education model where the injection of government dollars into private education had drastic, though unintended, consequences: higher education. Cato Institute’s Policy Analysis concluded that the, “empirical evidence is consistent . . . federal loans, Pell grants, and other assistance programs result in higher tuition for students at our nation’s colleges and universities” (Wolfram, 2005). The dollar-for-dollar impact varies from one state and institution to another, but estimates indicate that for every $1 of government aid, the cost of tuition went up from $0.65 (Lucca et al, 2017) to $3.24 (Wolfram, 2005). Another study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York draws similar conclusions (Lucca et al, 2017). The Center for College Affordability and Productivity’s report Financial Aid in Theory and Practice, showed that increased government aid resulted directly in increased tuition costs (Gillen, 2009). Finally, in a 2012 study, Harvard’s Stephanie Riegg Cellini and Claudia Goldin found that for-profit schools actually raised tuition specifically to capture increases in federal aid (Cellini & Goldin, 2014).

The thinking that because state-run education has access to government funding, that public education somehow has a monopoly in the education market today, is to turn a blind eye to the expansion of thriving private schools (small and large) and the historic presence of homeschools in the state. In fact, the market today is sustaining more educational opportunities for parents than ever before. Podschools, microschools and co-ops are becoming commonplace, even in small, rural communities. In the absence of public education options that meet parent’s criteria for a moral, robust, and safe learning environment, the free market of ideas has bloomed as never before and communities are developing even more creative ways to capitalize on the state’s current educational freedom. In fact, Idaho’s
education laws are some of the freest in the country, allowing for this expansion of education in a free market, unfettered by government funding or regulation.

Idaho already possesses robust School Choice! ESA legislation does absolutely nothing to increase those choices, nor does it broaden the rights associated with such choices. ESAs are only about school choice funding! Who should be required to pay for school choice? Proponents believe that already overburdened taxpayers should be required to fund our Constitutionally-mandated public schools, AND additionally fund every personal, private educational choice as well. Rather than broadening the rights associated with these private options, accepting the funding would limit the rights and choices of private and homeschools, to those offered by the government system. One does not gain the benefits of choice by limiting choice! It is unfair to burden taxpayers with also having to fund private educational choices, particularly when the data from states with ESAs reveals gross mismanagement of these taxpayer dollars.

While we appreciate the desire to help more parents afford private and home education, we hold a vastly different opinion on how to achieve this goal. ESAs place an enormous amount of misguided trust in the government. Proponents of ESAs are trusting that the government will not unduly regulate what it funds. They trust that today’s benevolent administration of funds will not gravitate toward future tyranny once private actors have been eliminated through assimilation into the single system.

Please do not be misled, as many legislators and candidates have been, into thinking that ESAs are a conservative issue!