The Lack of Dollars and ‘Sense’ in Idaho Schools
by Levi Cavener, Invest in Idaho organizer for Canyon County (published 2/05/2020 by Idaho Education News)
The National Education Association (NEA) has finished compiling their annual analysis of our country’s state-by-state education spending. The results show that for all the talk of increasing education spending in Idaho, we are just barely keeping pace with inflation.
It has nothing to do with the dollars and cents spent on education in comparison to the country as a whole. Rather, it is because Idaho has fallen so far behind our regional peers that is akin to be handed the baton in a race for the last relay when all the other teams have already crossed the finished line.
Some numbers: Idaho’s average teaching salary is $49,225. In dollars and cents, that doesn’t sound so bad. But keep in mind that Idaho must compete with our neighboring states to attract and retain teachers, particularly in communities where crossing the state line is as simple as adding a few more minutes to the daily commute.
This is why Idaho’s average teaching salary is stuck on the track while all the other teams have crossed over the finish line. The numbers for some of our neighboring states: Oregon, $63,061; Washington, $55,693; Wyoming, $58,352. In fact, Idaho’s average salary is lower than every single one of the states surrounding our borders.
It is no wonder why it is so hard for Idaho to attract and retain teachers. Our regional peers are lapping us on the track. It would be comical if the consequences of our lack of competitive pay didn’t have such real world implications.
It gets worse. According the the study, Idaho’s per pupil spending is now dead last in America. The Gem State spends just $6,809 per student. Utah, which had this dubious honor last year, has now passed us. If the goal in this race is first to be last, we sure are doing a good job of it.
And it’s not that Idaho needs to spend as much as the rest of the country does on their own education expenditures. It is that Idaho needs to at least be competitive with our regional neighbors. Nevada commits about a third more with $9,548. Montana spends almost double us with $11,540 per student. Wyoming spends $16,529. We should be embarrassed and equally ashamed.
And our young people should be angry. They should be upset that despite our state’s constitutional mandate to provide a thorough and uniform education, their educational opportunities are defined by the zip code they live inside.
They should be furious that the sin of being born into a district that cannot pass a levy dictates having opportunities to career technical training, advanced placement courses, and STEM opportunities such as coding and robotics.
And Idaho’s property owners should be equally outraged. They are being fleeced in the form of permanent “supplemental” levies used to pay for “supplemental” items like paying the electric bill. Just ask Kamiah School District. When their small $500,000 levy failed, the district literally had to shutter their middle school. Levies are no longer supplemental when we must close down schools if they do not pass.
The fact is, the state failing to provide adequate dollars to our schools, and property owners are picking up the tab. Reclaim Idaho is supporting a ballot initiative to put the onus back on the state to adequately fund our public schools. Sign the petition today at ReclaimIdaho.Org
America should be the “shining city on the hill”
by Tom Sullivan, former candidate for U.S. Senate, Idaho
I’m completely disgusted and repulsed by our politics. Our political process is completely broken! We have a president who is a serial liar. Trump is admittedly colluding with foreign strongman leaders and the entire lot of spineless sycophant republican senators won’t even allow a fair trial.
What don’t I love? The Supreme Court, which was delegitimized with the stolen seat of Merrick Garland, just voted 5-4 to allow wealth testing to be a determining factor for immigration. I don’t love the fact that we are participating and financing two genocides right now in both Palestine and Syria. I don’t love the fact that we’ve decided to promote Cristian prayer in schools while preventing freedom of the same for Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and others. I don’t love the fact that corporations and coal companies are once again allowed to poison and pollute our rivers and waterways. I’m immensely saddened that we are the lone member of developed countries to not participate in the battle against global warming.
I want an America where we lift up those that need help rather than insult them and call them weak. I want an America that leads the world in science and art and protecting the planet for future generations. I want an America that recognizes that we created millions of climate refugees that need our help and protection rather than just slamming our doors while we rob them of all their natural resources. I want an America that values the truth above conspiracy. I want an America that is willing, at least to acknowledge the past and present wrongs it has inflicted on millions of Americans through racism.
America is supposed to be the “Shining city on the hill”, with morality, compassion, fairness, equal opportunity, leadership and love. America, right now has abandoned all of these qualities under the stewardship of the most profoundly arrogant and hate filled and ignorant child our country has ever seen as a president. I do not believe our America can withstand another four years of Trump and I believe if you love America, as I do, you have to get involved. It is not possible to look the other way and hope that the problem corrects itself. DO ONE THING, to make a difference. If you volunteer one day, give one donation, go to one political event, just do one thing, you can make a difference. And, no matter where you live, even if your vote doesn’t count, VOTE!
Idaho Dems must stay vigilant
Van Beechler, Chair, ISD
Jan 21, 2020
As we head into the 2020 legislative session, my message to Idaho Democrats is simple: stay vigilant.
During the 2019 session, we saw many victories for hardworking Idahoans. The Republicans introduced a bill to destroy our Democracy and do away with the bipartisan redistricting commission paving the way for a gerrymandered Idaho. Idaho Democrats stood up and forced the bill back to committee and had it killed.
After hundreds of thousands of Idahoans voted to expand Medicaid in 2018, the Republicans passed a bill to put their foot on the throats of voters and take away their voice and our initiative process. After thousands of Idahoans and Idaho Democrats made their voices heard, Gov. Brad Little vetoed Senate Bill 1159.
We celebrated some more.
Idaho Democrats passed some great legislation, ranging from mandating nearly all sexual assault kits be tested to requiring insurance companies to cover hearing aid costs for Idaho’s children, to name a couple.
We celebrated even more. Now, it’s time to get back to work.
As Idaho Democrats, it is our responsibility to stop harmful Republican legislation from making its way into Idaho’s statutes. This is a tough job, but when we come together, we succeed.
As I was listening to Governor Little’s State of the State address, I was pleased to hear him repeating what Idaho Democrats have spent decades fighting for, like properly funding public education, preserving our public lands, and expanding broadband access to our rural communities.
While I appreciate him highlighting successes of Idaho’s public schools, our state still has a long way to go, particularly when it comes to literacy. In my home city of Caldwell— which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state— only 51 percent of public school students finished the year at grade level, falling behind other large districts in the state, according to the 2018-19 Idaho Reading Indicator scores. It’s time our legislature truly prioritized education and made it available for every Idaho kid regardless of their zip code.
As we’ve learned from previous sessions, just because a bill dies doesn’t mean it won’t come back to life. We will likely see the return of an effort to gerrymander and to put restrictions on our ballot initiative process this session, both of which would have devastating impacts on Idaho’s democracy.
Any progress we make in the legislature or the senate can be taken away in the blink of an eye if we get too comfortable. When we stop paying attention, stop calling our representatives, and stop being informed, that’s when we lose all the progress we’ve made.
I am determined to stay vigilant and tireless when it comes to making positive changes in our state. We can’t assume someone else will do the work, we can’t let up when we think the fight is over. It’s 2020, and there are no more excuses. I look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you this year.
Van Beechler is the chair of the Idaho Democratic Party.
December 3, 2019: Income tax cuts hurt Idaho
by Idaho State Senator Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, Minority Leader of the Idaho House.
When the Legislature orders counties to carry out state functions but fails to provide the money to do so, local property taxpayers pay the price. As a result, residential property taxes are sky-high in many counties, and citizens are demanding relief.
The inability of the state to pay these costs stems from its long history of cutting state income taxes to primarily benefit the wealthy. In depriving the state of revenue to pay its bills, they’ve forced costs on to local governments and school districts and increased property taxes on all of us. Although some state politicians like to talk about their cuts coming to a billion dollars over the years, they don’t seem to acknowledge their role in increasing our property taxes.
For example, the 2018 income tax cut is costing the state at least $129 million in revenue each year. Such cuts have prevented the state from properly funding the schools and have resulted in property tax override levies that will total $214 million this year.
Income tax cuts also deprive the state of the revenue it needs to house a significant number of its prisoners. Instead, a good number are in county jails, with Ada County now having about 326 of them. The Ada County jail has become so crowded it is in violation of mandatory jail accreditation standards, with some prisoners sleeping on the floor. Although a state prisoner costs the average county $86.55 per day, a state prisoner costs some counties as much $112 per day and Ada County about $102 per day. The state only pays $55 per day for the prisoner’s first seven days and $75 per day thereafter. Consequently, Ada County is forced to subsidize the state prison system by $1.6 to $1.8 million per year, and that doesn’t even consider that the state should, but doesn’t, pay a proportionate share of the cost to build and expand the jail. One wonders if Canyon County might have been able to solve its continuing jail crowding problem many years ago if the state had simply paid the full cost of housing its prisoners.
And jails are just one of the state’s unpaid bills. The Legislature’s total unfunded county mandates are in the many millions of dollars per year. For example, county property taxpayers subsidize each sheriff issued driver’s license by $3; and counties must spend $12 million a year on indigent health care, $8 million a year on involuntary mental health commitments and $32 million a year on public defenders. The list of unfunded state mandates goes on and on.
Another reason residential property taxes are sky-rocketing is that the Legislature significantly reduced the homestead exemption in 2016, thereby shifting a significant amount of the property tax burden from business to residential property. Unfortunately, efforts to repeal this shift were blocked in the Idaho House last session.
Rather than repeal the property tax shift and require the state to pay its own bills, some inside and outside the Legislature say local governments have caused the property tax crisis by spending too much. They want to lower local government budget caps still further by barring any budget growth based on new construction. New construction is, however, a factor the law expressly allows to cover budget costs stemming from population and economic growth. That growth must pay for itself. Pretending it isn’t there, and that it doesn’t impose significant costs on local communities, won’t make it so. Arbitrarily lowering budget caps will either force cuts in public safety and other services or force overrides, which will mean no real property tax relief.
When it comes to property tax relief, the Legislature’s priorities should be to pay the state’s bills and repeal the property tax shift, not cut vital local services.
November 8, 2019: What Risch didn’t say
by Betty Hansen Richardson, former U.S. Attorney for Idaho
A few days ago, I posted that I had received an invitation to participate in Sen. Jim Risch’s tele-town hall to be held from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday November 7. I was told I would receive a call from the Senator’s office, and all I needed to do to participate was to stay on the line. The call is now history, and I thought those of you who missed it might like to know a little about it.
This was the second Risch “tele-town hall,” in which I’ve participated. The script was much the same. The senator began the call touting his work on the Women’s Business Center, agricultural issues and energy-related issues involving the Idaho National Laboratory. Then a pleasant voiced person named Marty, who facilitated the call, asked the senator to talk about impeachment.
In response, the senator gave his listeners a self-styled history lesson on impeachment. That was all well and good; however, he dropped any charade of objectivity by whining about the party-line vote in the House of Representatives and complaining that the House was “operating in secret chambers.”
Risch did not acknowledge that Republicans who sit on the germane committees were allowed to fully participate in the proceedings. He did not mention that the transcripts of the depositions are being made public, and he did not mention that public hearings will begin next week. He concluded by griping that “impeachment is truly sucking the oxygen out of the air. We have a lot to do and there are matters on the back burner.”
Of course he made no mention of the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to consider a couple hundred bills passed by the House. I would posit that it is McConnell who is “truly sucking the oxygen out” of the legislative air.
Then it was time for the first call.
Imagine my surprise when the first caller to ask a question was one of the same people who got to ask a question on the last call. What are the chances that the same Idahoan would get picked twice by the Risch staff to ask his question?
The caller asked whether and when the Keystone Pipeline would be built. Risch assured the caller that the pipeline was happening. He then touted the fact that the U.S. is now the largest oil producing nation in the world. He did not acknowledge the impact that fossil fuels have on our environment nor did he say one word about alternative energy development.
The next caller asked about the senator’s view on tariffs. After calling himself a “free-trader,” Risch lauded the president’s “re-negotiation” of NAFTA and his determination to hold “China’s feet to the fire.” On both counts, Risch said he and some of his colleagues at first “cringed” when they heard of the president’s actions but — by golly — it turns out the president was right. The president, it seems, likes bi-lateral agreements better than multi-lateral agreements, and Risch is just fine with that.
The next caller asked about the Colombia River Treaty. Risch said that the treaty was intended to address two concerns — flood control and generating electricity. He did not want the treaty to address salmon.
The next caller asked about cyber-security. Risch acknowledged the growing threat of cyber attacks and noted that a lot of money had been allocated to fight such attacks. He did not mention the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to vote on House passed legislation to protect our 2020 elections.
The next call came from someone who expressed concern about the national debt. Risch gave what he called a “mini-tutorial” on spending, complaining that three-fourths of our spending goes to what Risch called “entitlements” — things like Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans’ Benefits. He told his listeners that these programs are causing the problem and that “spending has to be reformed.” I believe that translates to a desire to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans’ Benefits, but the term “reformed,” obscures that intent.
Risch did not mention that, since passage of the president’s tax relief act for the wealthy and corporations, the deficit had ballooned, there were few signs of investment but plenty of stock buy-backs, special interest breaks and loopholes. He also did not mention that factories and jobs are more likely to go overseas.
The next caller asked the senator to give his views on “sanctuary cities.” Risch declared he was a “hawk” when it comes to border security, that a nation can’t have control of its sovereignty unless it has control of its borders. He supports the president in all things border-related. He did not mention the president’s family separation policy or the practice of housing children in cages.
I had to take another call so I wasn’t able to listen to the last 10 minutes of the Risch call. I doubt I missed much. It seems I learned more about Risch’s stands on the issues by considering what he avoided discussing than what he chose to talk about.
November 6, 2019: Rural teachers need debt relief
by Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, District 26, and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D- Boise, District 18
Unfortunately, our rural school districts are feeling the impact the most. Rural schools make up about 75% of all Idaho’s districts and most of them are struggling to fill teaching positions. Rural districts have to get creative to make sure that students have a teacher in the classroom by doing things like allowing unlicensed teachers in the classroom. Parents in rural districts have no choice but to send their kids to schools with teachers who are not certified to teach and may be lacking necessary credentials.
For the last several sessions, Idaho Democrats have introduced legislation that would give student loan relief to rural teachers. It hasn’t made it to the desk of the Governor because the legislature has refused to make this necessary investment in Idaho’s teachers. We are committed to bringing this legislation back again this year because our rural schools need this option.
We cannot have an educated workforce, a thriving economy, or a successful state if we do not provide our students a quality education. Idaho’s teachers and students are our most valuable asset. Our rural communities are counting on us.