Idaho’s ‘free market’ education program is just another form of government control

A new program the Idaho Department of Education is calling “Advanced Opportunities” is being hailed as a “revolutionary” and “free-market” approach to improve student outcomes. The program works by giving public school students a $1,500 scholarship for every year skipped and graduated early, which can then be used for post-secondary education in the state.

The term “free market” appears to have slowly morphed into code for the insidious meddling of behavioral economics, invariably carried out with the power of government. In fact, there’s nothing market-based about subsidies, wealth redistribution, and a centrally directed incentive structure that treats students as pawns in a master plan rather than as capable, self-actualizing individuals.

In fairness, I can see where the program’s proponents are coming from. Students who are too bright to be stuck in high school for four years are allowed to leave early, and use the taxpayer resources they would have consumed for more productive endeavors. Sounds great. But, in fact, this reeks of social engineering.

In a free market, people pay for services they wish to consume. You pay for school, because you want what it has to offer, including classes and a diploma. In Idaho’s perverse model, it is the schools that effectively pay students for obtaining a diploma, which is precisely backward from how business is supposed to work.

If families were receiving back the same amount they pay in taxes for schools, that would be one thing, but in most cases not only will they receive significantly more (also known as a government subsidy), it is the state that gets to choose how those funds are spent. This is the illusion of choice — not actually allowing students to self-direct their learning.

Furthermore, the Idaho program assumes that early graduation is the best thing for students. Government always presumes to know what students need. And while some would undoubtedly flourish from…

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