New Issue Brief: Analyzing the Microschooling Environment in Idaho
The passage of Idaho State Senate Bill 1046 empowers parents to enroll children in small learning communities and exert a say in curricula decisions
NEW YORK, NY — As evidence from a temporary drop in enrollment during the 2020-21 school year suggests, many parents found traditional school offerings during the pandemic unsatisfactory. With parents open to nontraditional K-12 schooling options on a level previously unseen, Idaho has found a way to give parents more education options. In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief—the first of a four-part series on microschooling—Jocelyn Pickford and Duncan Robb, education policy experts with HCM Strategists, examine Idaho's evolving experiences with microschools, which offer much of the flexibility and autonomy of homeschool along with many of the pedagogical and social benefits of traditional school.
Pickford and Robb define microschools (also sometimes known as learning pods) as a small group of students from several families taught by one or a few dedicated educators. This option gives parents a say in scheduling, curriculum, and instructional strategy while also providing students with a skilled educator. The policy priorities of microschool parents differ from those of homeschoolers. While many homeschool parents are skeptical of any state aid under the assumption that public funds will come with strings attached, microschooling parents are typically used to accessing public school services and thus more likely to welcome public funding.
Lawmakers in Idaho recently considered two different options for funding microschools during their 2021 session. House Bill 294 would have granted more education scholarships or grants to provide parents with more flexible education spending. Opponents feared the funds would take away from school districts, so this "outside-the-system" approach, like its predecessors, failed. Instead, the Idaho legislature went with an "inside-the-system" option and, in May of 2021, Governor Brad Little signed Senate Bill 1046 into law. The bill allows a school district and a group of parents to come together to create an "innovation classroom" located within a traditional public school. With this agreement, families can create a small learning community wherein their children learn from a specific teacher using their chosen curriculum, while remaining part of the public school district and thus able to participate in extracurricular activities and receive eligible supports. For states looking for ways to give families more of a say in what and how students learn, Idaho's solution provides an exciting case study.
About MI’s Microschooling Series
The Manhattan Institute’s new series on microschools studies the intersection of small learning environments and public policy. The series includes studies of Idaho, Arizona, and New York, and a summary report by senior fellow Andy Smarick. The passage of the first charter-school and private-school choice programs 30 years ago began an era of families and educators developing a growing array of K-12 options. The subsequent growth in homeschooling and the advent of online programs further expanded the number and types of learning environments available to American students. In recent years, small-school environments have become increasingly popular options, enabling students to learn in more intimate settings and allowing parents to be more engaged in their children’s schooling. The Covid-19 pandemic and recent debates about changes in school curriculum accelerated the expansion and diversification of such alternatives. The series explores these shifting dynamics and discusses pathways for continued growth. Click here to read more.