Legislature: Starting over on Roads and Education

by Judy Ferro

So the legislature may not adjourn before the end of March because they still haven’t decided what to do about schools and roads. Ten weeks into the session, we’ve got three or more plans to fund road maintenance and two dead plans for funding teacher salaries.

Yet, I admire how our legislators have worked this session. They have not only given constituents a chance to speak, they have listened and sought new solutions. I think they care.

I suppose it’s expecting too much to hope that, as we’re paying for the extra time, they give a few extra hours to expanding Medicaid and raising the minimum wage? Both would work wonders for our state budget.

Expanding Medicaid would save the state $173 million in the next 10 years. You’d think that would mean something to Republican leaders even if they aren’t bothered by the unfairness of our current system where a family of four with $31,680 in income can get health insurance for $1,003 a year that a similar family making $23,155 a year would have to pay $11,209 for.

There’s no firm estimate on the gains from raising the minimum wage, but other states have had welfare costs go down and tax income go up. Not to mention that many of our workers—and their families–would be a little closer to making ends meet.

Of course, if a legislature as Republican as ours started paying attention to the needs of workers, people might start to why wonder the country need Democrats.

So I expect I’ll have to settle for workable plans for education and roads.

The idea of tying teacher pay to test scores has been simmering for years. Entities have developed tests, scrapped them, developed more, seen pilot programs fail, and still the momentum persists.

Yet, teachers know they do not control how their students do on tests any more than a dentist controls whether patients have good teeth. They make a difference, but it’s impossible to measure how much. A dramatic increase in test scores is more apt to come from squeezing poor performing students out than from new teaching methods. A northern Idaho charter school class scored great after 75% of the students dropped out.

When Stephanie Geise taught in an affluent Florida area, her students scored 98th percentile on tests; when she later taught in in a low-income area of Pennsylvania, scores averaged near the 40th percentile. “I did not magically become more than 50 percent less effective,” the former teacher explains. “All I did was change the environment in which I was teaching.”

So I admire the legislators who listened and killed HB220. And I’m nervous that Education Committee Chair Reed DeMordaunt has said a new bill will have only minor changes. Would it be too much to ask legislators to listen to Superintendent Ybarra and try a pilot program before risking more damage to our schools?

As for roads—I don’t totally agree with any of the plans. Some take money from other needs; most require the poor to pay more than the rich. None recognizes the need for some mass transit. The idea of charging inflated registration fees for electric vehicles ignores their favorable effect on air quality in our urban areas. But these are details that we can differ about and adjust. The important thing is that we invest in public roads rather than risking lives and gifting the system to toll-charging corporations.

Thanks to our legislators for taking a few extra weeks to try to get things right.

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