Our legislature must decide whether to meet Idaho’s needs 

Can you believe the legislature is back in session this week? My door is open, birds are singing, and the pale green of new leaves fills the horizon. Trays of seeds are sprouting; summer is coming.     

Usually, the legislature has adjourned by early April, but now members are returning to an outsized load of unfinished business.  A record number of bills for April–200–have passed one house and not the other.  

And there’s talk of allowing introduction of a new bill to fund all-day kindergarten. New bills are a rule-breaker at this time, but many are rooting for this one. First grade teachers face a large gap between their highest and lowest students and cannot hope to meet the needs of them all. Kids who start first grade knowing how to hold scissors and recognize letters have a better school experience and develop higher expectations for themselves. 

This bill’s proof that some legislators care about Idaho. Too bad bills to increase the homeowners’ property tax exemption and to end the sales tax on groceries don’t have a chance.

Instead we have HB 322, a bill to lower income taxes by 0.125% for the lowest bracket and up to 0.425% for the highest, with a first-year bonus of $50 or 9% of state taxes paid in 2019, whichever is higher. 

After I attacked that bill costing $390 million–$780 million with a Federal take-back–a reader asked if taxpayers who paid in more than was spent didn’t deserve their money back.   

My answer–I’ll never consider Idaho as having a surplus as long as we’re last in the nation in funding education. We should be demanding we’re above the bottom 10. Our kids need–and deserve–that.  

I once had a brittle wall screen that was mended with duct tape. A student went to pull it down for me, and the bottom tore off in his hand; the screen rolled up with such force that it jumped from the nails, and the heavy metal housing fell on him. And when the district couldn’t afford to replace my bent room key, a janitor had to come open and lock my room each day–and I couldn’t leave for lunch.      

And then, in 2009-2010, the legislature cut the education budget 20% more. 

We’ve become conditioned to accept oversized classes. Only Michigan has a higher average for the number in elementary classrooms. Idaho’s average is six students larger than those in Georgia, Maine, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont–and nearly 10 students larger than our own average for secondary classes. 

Teaching requires listening–if you don’t know why a student doesn’t understand, you can’t help them. More students means less knowledge of each one. And more students means fewer activities and more “sit and face forward’.      

A friend’s recent post on Facebook made it clear that the schools aren’t alone in being neglected.  

“There are critical shortages of staff at the Department of Health and Welfare in child protection.

“There’s a critical increase in abuse cases and severity of cases.

“There’s an increase of abuse resulting in ICU and hospital stays.

 “There’s a lack of beds for substance abuse treatment.  

“There’s a critical shortage of mental health care for adults and children.

“There’s a shortage of social workers and mental health workers in schools.

“There’s a critical shortage of professionals who serve children with disabilities. I assume the same is true for adults with disabilities.”

Federal Covid-19 funds can’t be used for ongoing expenses, but our surplus can. Why aren’t more people angry that Idaho legislators underfund schools and services so they can cut income taxes for the weathy again?      

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