Legislators pull tax bill, but continue attack on public schools

HB 199 has been pulled. That’s the tax bill that would have done away with the grocery tax credit, but not the grocery sales tax, while making small cuts in sales and income taxes. Taxes would be higher for many, while funds for needed improvements in government services would be gone.

There’s every chance, of course, that a similar tax bill will be introduced soon.

Meanwhile, the Democratic tax proposals have been ignored: to cut property taxes by increasing the homeowner’s exemption and assistance to the elderly and handicapped with limited income, and to cut income taxes by increasing the child tax credit and a tax credit for low-income workers.

All four changes would cost about $300 million less per year than HB 199. We’d still have money for some improvements in services.

The major development this week, however, was the continued attack on public schools.

One bill, HB174, would take away teachers’ rights to negotiate salaries and working conditions. Many legislators seem threatened by teachers that are experienced, educated members of a professional team. They resent that teachers have a say about their health insurance or a 20 duty-free minutes for lunch.

And Idaho’s teacher retention rate is one of the worst. We have a teacher shortage in spite of the fact Idaho colleges graduate more trained educators than we need. It’s not secret what teachers want–the sense of making a difference, the respect of the community, and decent pay.

Unfortunately, a number of Idaho legislators don’t regard retaining teachers as a priority. Last week the House Education Committee voted to allow school districts and charter schools to issue local teacher certificates to anyone with a bachelor’s degree who does not have a criminal record or a communicable disease (HB221).

An Idaho Education Association press release pointed out that means, “No formal training, no education experience, no post-secondary degree, no instruction on classroom management or how to deal with troubled students.”

I was considered a ‘born teacher,’ but am grateful that I had years of training.  I shudder at the idea of students having one inexperienced teacher after another.

HB215 completes a ghastly trifecta. It would require $5 million dollars a year–plus a few million more in administrative costs–to help pay tuition for 800 students in private schools.

Last week one student testified how transferring from a public school to a private one with much smaller classroom sizes changed her life.

We might hope that all legislators would get the message that smaller class sizes are good. Instead, some see the girls’ testimony as justification to take money from public schools so a few privileged kids can thrive.

The average private school tuition for elementary schools in Idaho is over $9,000; some schools charge over $19,000. Most Idaho families could not afford a private school even with $6,000 from the state. It’s grossly unfair to starve schools serving most Idaho kids while subsidizing private education for a few.

And that’s the situation only if the system works the way the lawmakers expect.

Idaho has little to no requirements for private schools. Our smallest have only two to four students. A family with four kids could get $24,000 just for denying their kids a formal education.

And any one of the seven “hate groups” in Idaho could organize schools. When Seattle experimented with vouchers, taxpayers got a downtown school that taught white people were devils who pushed birth control in order to reduce the number of blacks.

The repeated attacks on public schools this year suggest that a significant number in the Statehouse are more interested in power than in seeing our kids succeed.