Teachers, doctors and other Idaho professionals took a vacation day Tuesday to help gather signatures in hopes of placing an initiative to increase funding for Idaho schools on next year’s ballot.
The volunteers’ idea was to meet thousands of Idahoans at the polls, on Election Day, and ask them to support Reclaim Idaho’s “Invest in Idaho” measure. Reclaim Idaho may be familiar to many Idahoans; it’s the same group that was behind the successful Medicaid expansion ballot initiative.
Vallivue social studies teacher Levi Cavener posted up outside Sage Valley Middle School at 8 a.m., just as the polls opened for the day. Other than a break for lunch, he planned to stay all day talking to voters about the state of school funding in Idaho.
“It really boils down to investing in our state,” Cavener said. “We are growing our workforce. We want to provide you with the skills you need. But we need adequate resources to do that.”
Reclaim Idaho said that about 250 volunteers participated in the effort Tuesday, securing more than 3,500 signatures.
Up North in Coeur d’Alene, Dr. Cory Alexander took a vacation day, grabbed a clipboard she adorned with a sign that read “Sign Here To Support Idaho Education” and measured out 100 feet from the polls at Woodland Middle School using her cell phone.
Within two hours of starting, she secured 26 signatures.
“I see Idaho teachers do an amazing job with what they have, but the reluctance of our Legislature to adequately fund what our children need is why I’m doing this,” she said.
Alexander works as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and said she became an activist two or three years ago to help Idaho families and children become more resilient. She previously gathered signatures for the Medicaid expansion initiative and said several voters she encountered Tuesday were already familiar with Reclaim Idaho’s “Invest in Idaho” initiative.
“We’ve been very successful out there in our municipal election,” Alexander said. “A couple of people, as soon as I mentioned it was a Reclaim Idaho petition, they immediately signed. They were very familiar.”
Cavener said he sees several benefits to the ballot initiative. Its passage would increase funding for schools. In turn, he said an influx in state funding should decrease the need for supplemental levies across the state, which now are in place in 92 of Idaho’s 115 school districts and will cost voters $214 million this year.
Reclaim Idaho organizers said their initiative would increase corporate income tax rates from 6.925 percent to 8 percent and create a new individual income tax bracket for Idahoans making more than $250,000 per year, taxing them at 9.925 percent.
Those tax increases could yield more than $170 million per year in funding for education.
“I’m in the trenches, in the sense that I see what opportunities our kids have, or have not in some cases, depending on what district they live in,” Cavener said. “I’m fortunate to live in a district where patrons are very gracious and have been passing levies since the Great Recession began. But not all districts can say that, especially rural districts.”
Cavener said schools could choose to use their share of the money to bolster career-technical education programming, increase teacher salaries, reduce class sizes or help pay for all-day kindergarten.
In order for the ballot initiative to go forward, organizers must collect and verify at least 55,057 signatures statewide, corresponding to 6 percent of registered voters. In doing so, organizers will also need to gather and verify signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.
The deadline to collect signatures is April 30, 2020. If organizers obtain the necessary number and distribution of signatures, the measure would go before Idaho voters on the November 2020 ballot.