On Saturday, Brian Cronin couched the education debate in terms of the recent past — and the immediate future.
The former state representative, a vocal critic of the 2011 Students Come First laws, reminded fellow Democrats that the people stood up to reject the three laws. In doing so, Cronin said, voters “stood up to the hubris of lawmakers.”
But now, the people have the chance to stand up for meaningful reform. During a Democratic Party rally in Caldwell, Cronin hailed a 31-member education task force for coming up with a positive list of ideas.
“The possibilities are endless,” Cronin said.
Republican Gov. Butch Otter convened the task force late last year, after voters overturned Students Come First. The wide-ranging group of education and business leaders and elected officials issued 21 recommendations — including a $253 million teacher salary ladder, a concerted push for technology across K-12, and restoring $82.5 million in school operation funding, which was cut during the recession.
The question, said Cronin, is whether Otter and the Legislature will commit to funding. Cronin cited a recent study on education funding during the recession — which revealed that Idaho schools endured some of the nation’s deepest budget cuts.
“Idaho has been trying to do education on the cheap, and that does not work,” he said.
Retiring state Rep. Shirley Ringo of Moscow said she was “excited” about the task force recommendations, and urged Democrats to push for their passage.
She urged Democrats to hold the Legislature to the state Constitution, which mandates a “general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” A strong, universal education system is crucial, she said, “especially in times like these, when our middle class is shrinking.”
The Caldwell rally, held on the College of Idaho campus, was one of seven events Democrats held across the state Saturday, to call attention to the needs of Idaho education.
In Caldwell, an audience of about 50 gave some its biggest cheers to Ringo, who is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador in 2014. But the rally included a call for bipartisanship.
Ismael Fernandez, a Parma High School junior, said schools have suffered from “humiliating” budget cuts. But now, it’s time for effective, bipartisan solutions.
“We get ourselves nowhere by trying to play the blame game.”