Idaho needs new leadership

As one of the two longest-serving state superintendents of public instruction in Idaho’s history, I have watched what’s happening to our schools with growing concern and frustration for several years. Despite an abundance of political talk to the contrary, Idaho’s public schools have been all but abandoned by our state’s leaders.

Not only does our investment per pupil rank next to last nationally, but we spend only $6 for every $10 spent by the average school district in America. [source: http://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/06/03/states-spending-the-most-and-least-on-education/] Defenders of our inadequate commitment to education claim “we get a lot for our dollars,”and they do have a point.

But that ignores reality when 95 of Idaho’s 115 school districts have to raise local property taxes just to keep teachers in classrooms and the lights and heat on. More than one-third of districts have gone to a four-day school week, and they don’t do that because it improves student achievement. Our kids face growing inequity of opportunity when poorer districts, many of them in small, rural communities, cannot offer the same quality education as other districts.

We are not living up to our state constitution’s mandate to “maintain a general, uniform and thorough” system of public schools.

And in fact, we’re not getting good enough results. Idaho ranks near the bottom in the percentage of high-school graduates who go on to college—around 37 percent—and we know that within a decade, about 60 percent of Idaho jobs will require college or some post-secondary education. The state Board of Education’s goal is that 60 percent of young adults have a post-secondary degree of some kind by 2020. I doubt that our current course will get us there.

Not surprisingly, we’ve created an economy where only one state has a higher percentage of minimum-wage workers, our per-capita personal income is second-lowest in America, the number of children receiving a free or reduced-price lunch in Idaho has leapt 10 percent during Gov. Otter’s tenure, and many Idahoans have left the state for better-paying jobs elsewhere.

For too long our state has been in a “race to the bottom.”

As a lifelong Republican, it’s not easy for me to endorse a candidate from another party. But it is with enthusiasm that I endorse A.J. Balukoff’s bid to be Idaho’s next governor. He has a long record of support for public schools and as a leader on the Boise School Board. He has deep experience building successful businesses and helping lead many non-profits. His ability to listen, bring people together, and act decisively will serve Idaho well. He knows what it takes to produce success.

Without new leadership, the gulf between where we are and where we need to be will grow even wider.

The stakes are high. We are facing a critical period with our state’s economy and our public schools. We simply cannot afford four more years of going in the wrong direction. It is time to thank Gov. Otter for his service and to wish him well in retirement.

For a better and brighter future for our state, our children and our grandchildren, I urge you to vote for A.J. Balukoff for governor.

Jerry L. Evans was elected four times to the office of Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction.

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