Idaho parents and grandparents like us have been heartbroken watching their children during coronavirus. We know it’s important to keep our students safe and healthy, and we appreciate how difficult it was for educators to revamp their instruction at the drop of a hat. Our teachers are doing the best they can with the limited resources that they have, but students are struggling to find normalcy in a completely different delivery mode of education.
Schools are the safety net for many Idaho children. Some of our most vulnerable students are struggling and craving the face-to-face interaction they so desperately need with their teachers. Online meetings are usually short, because the teacher or school district cannot afford to purchase longer meetings. Students who are craving social interaction are only given small morsels of time with their friends and teachers. Even worse, many Idaho children have fallen through the cracks. School districts know that they haven’t been able to locate many of their students since they left their classrooms. Families have been forced to move during the pandemic, leaving no forwarding address for schools to pursue.
As schools and education evolve, teachers are struggling to find the right blend of a new hybrid model of instruction that will meet the needs of all students. It is a complicated and delicate job, as the ability, needs, and access of students vary greatly throughout Idaho. This is exacerbated by the fact that almost 50 of our school districts will be operating on a 4-day a week schedule. (It is important to note most of these districts did not go to a 4-day week because they thought it was best for students, but because they did not have the resources needed to operate a 5-day week).
Idaho is going to need to invest more money in professional development, technology, and staffing to meet the needs of our children and families as we try to operate during these difficult times. This is not a time to cut funding to education. While it is true state revenues are down, we have nearly $600 million in rainy day funds and the sales tax we collect on internet sales ($8 million per month) is directed to a fund slotted for tax relief. This fund can certainly be used to fulfil Idaho’s Constitutional duty to fund a thorough, uniform, and adequate education. By adequately funding education at the state level, school districts can avoid running supplemental levies that shift the burden to property taxes at the local level. Of the 115 school districts in Idaho, 41 of them were forced to run a levy on the May 2020 ballot. Many did not pass creating a very unequal education system within our state.
We appreciate the Governor and the rest of the state has some incredibly tough decisions to make. No one could have predicted our economic circumstances changing so drastically in a few short months. However, our teachers and students need our help more than ever. We cannot continue to ask our teachers to do more with less. We must invest in education now if we want our students to make up for the months of online learning or filling out packets.
Idaho’s children deserve high-quality education, even in a pandemic. We want to see our students return to highly skilled teachers with enough resources to ensure their students can catch up on any progress they have lost. Idaho’s children deserve a world-class education, and it is up to us to fund it. They are counting on us!