Idaho kids deserve better

Is anyone else disappointed at Sen. Jim Rice’s latest display of hypocrisy?  

“‘(Schools are) not gonna actually be able to collect impact fees,’ Rice said, ‘because it’s not a statutory change because of the way the Constitution is written.”’ We don’t want to be “embroiled in legal battles” (Idaho Press, Jan. 1, 2021). 

Bit last spring Sen. Rice voted to defy a Federal court order requiring Idaho to allow transgender individuals to change their birth certifications. The resulting lawsuits were expected to exceed $2 million, but Rice was cool with that. “‘Sometimes in the course of exercising legislative authority, the time comes to take an issue and put it through the process’” (IP, Mar 17, 2020).

Sen. Rice isn’t alone in seeing testing Federal laws as more important than funding Idaho education. It’s a time-honored Republican tradition. 

Why else would Idaho spend less per student than any other U.S. state? Taxpayers provided $6,747 per student in 2018-19, just $77 less than the $6,824 provided in 2010-11. 

That’s not even half the national average per student ($14,046). 

Why else would none of the sales tax collected from online sales go to schools–or roads or health and welfare services, for that matter? The legislature restricted its use to an important goal–cutting taxes.   

And now we have legislators claiming that schools can’t receive impact fees from new construction because educating future citizens isn’t a direct benefit to businesses and homeowners like roads or police stations. That kind of thinking explains why Idaho schools are the worst funded in the nation.     

Give property owners some tax relief and let newcomers pay impact fees toward costs for building new schools.   

The legislature has the funds to make a major difference this year. Sen. Wintrow recently pointed out Idaho has $630 million in excess revenue, $600 million in rainy day/reserve funds, $100 million in the internet sales tax fund, and $150 million in federal reimbursements for funds used fighting the pandemic (IP, Dec 28, 2021). 

Now I understand fiscal conservatives hold that this surplus is a one-time phenomenon and shouldn’t be spent for ongoing expenses like employee raises. But tax cuts are also ongoing, and Idaho’s tax rates are middling while its school expenditures are lowest in the nation.

 At some point our representatives have to give up on spending countless hours looking for gimmicks to make good education cheap and accept the fact that you generally get just what you pay for.  

Idaho is paying as little as it can and settling for overcrowded classrooms, burned-out teachers, and kids who know people don’t think they’re worth our support.

After 35 years in the classroom, I believe a student’s motivation is the major factor in how successful he or she is in schools. Students must believe that a good life is possible–many don’t–and school is part of the route there. 

Parents make a major difference, but teachers are also important. 

If teachers are perceived as puppets just going through the required motions, they aren’t taken seriously. It makes a real difference if they believe in helping kids grow, give students as much room for creativity and individuality as possible, and understand that self-discipline and self-confidence are major goals. 

And the larger the class, the harder it is to do this. At some point–for me it was about 28 kids–one has to give up on kids working together on projects they had some input in choosing and resort to ‘face forward and take notes.’

Our kids deserve more.

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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