I have a few questions to pose to you:
What if we could have, here in Idaho, an education system where a student who was excelling could move ahead onto the next lesson or the next class?
What if underperforming students could have more time with their teachers so that they could catch up with their peers or even meet up with or pass excelling students?
What if it were commonplace for high school students to take college courses during their sophomore, junior and senior years, instead of being a rarity?
What if a student in Challis could learn chemistry from a chemistry expert in Boise or Salt Lake City or London? What if our students routinely were exposed to classes at MIT or Harvard or Oxford? What if all students had access, at their fingertips, to 100,000 volumes of classical literature, even if their school library only had 1,000 books?
We live in an amazing time of technology and possibilities. Yet we continue to have the same old debates about education as if it were the 1950s. Idahoans rejected the school reforms passed by the 2011 Legislature. But that doesn't mean we should stop talking about education reform. In fact, Idaho should lead the discussion.
Here are some thoughts on education going forward: First, every child should be able to be educated in a way that best meets his or her needs. For some, that is a traditional public school, like the one my son attends. For others, it is a charter school, like the one my daughter attends. It might also be a private school, or a home school.
It might be an online education, or an education system that uses a blend of digital learning and classroom time. Second, the state should eliminate any barrier to a successful, thriving public school. Such barriers might include a pay structure that keeps the best teachers from being highly paid for their hard work and systemic dynamics that divert money and staffing resources unnecessarily out of the classroom. The Legislature should debate each of these, one at a time, one bill at a time: Why is tenure good public policy? Why are master labor agreements that have noexpiration good public policy? Should universities be able to participate in the creation of charter schools? And so on.
Third, the state requires people to pay into a public education system. But sometimes the public education system is not the best system for a student. Therefore, the state should create a mechanism to make sure that students are able to access the education system that best meets their need, and not hold them captive to a system that doesn't. Such a mechanism might include an education scholarship funded through tax credits, which are perfectly constitutional and appropriate in a state like Idaho.
And finally, the linkage between K-12 education and higher education should be more seamless than it is today. The Legislature should encourage that fluidity, making it easier for kids to move on to a college degree.
The education debate didn't end in the 2012 election cycle. It is only beginning, and one that should take priority during the coming legislative session. It is that important, and I bet if we work at it, we can even find common ground and a path forward that will benefit future generations of Idahoans.
Wayne Hoffman is executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.