An outspoken member of the state Board of Education has asked the board's staff to begin preliminary work on a plan that would let Idahoans avoid the future escalation of the cost of a college education for their children by paying for it now.

M. Karl Shurtliff of Boise, in a letter to the board's executive director, said the financial and legal advisers should begin researching what would be needed to put a so-called fee-guarantee program for higher education in operation."I believe that we can, and hopefully, that we will be able to put in place a system that provides that every Idaho family can assure a future higher education at a reasonable and known cost," Shurtliff wrote to Executive Director Rayburn Barton.

Such plans have been created in several states already, the most successful being the Michigan Education Trust. Under them generally, people designate the beneficiary of their participation, usually a son or daughter, and then deposit a set amount of money based on the time left before that child would be ready to attend college.

The deposit and the interest earned on it through investment over the intervening years guarantees the child the cost of an education, usually at a state-run school, if the child qualifies academically. If the child does not attend for any reason, the original deposit is generally refunded without any of the interest.

Legislation to provide for advance fee payment of higher education costs was introduced in the state Senate last winter but was defeated amid fear that technical and other problems would undermine its economic integrity and put the state in competition with private schools.

In his Dec. 17 letter, Shurtliff said the focus of any Idaho program would be on students wanting to attend the state's four colleges, but "there is little reason why the program could not include our many fine private colleges."

Once the preliminary work on such a plan is completed, he said, the proposal will be discussed with the governor's office and the legislative committee's charged with overseeing the state's educational system.

Such a program, he said, "will allow every Idahoan the opportunity to participate in an education savings plan that will assure to them an efficient, cost effective way to provide an economic higher education for their children or others."