Investments in public education benefit us all

The education of young Idahoans affects all of us. A well-educated and well-trained population improves our overall prosperity as a state.

That is why I declared education my number one priority during my first State of the State and Budget Address earlier this month. A strong K-12 public education system is the foundation for making Idaho the place where all of us, our children and our grandchildren want to live, raise families, and retire.

This is Education Week at the Idaho Statehouse. Parents, students, teachers, and education leaders come to the Capitol to address policy and budget issues with a shared goal of making our public education system in Idaho stronger and more accountable.

The best education of our youngest Idahoans starts with families and later depends on teachers. Teachers enter their profession with hearts for making a difference. They become teachers because they love learning and helping others learn.

But a good heart isn’t enough to keep some of our best teachers teaching. According to a State Board of Education Teacher Pipeline Report from 2017, about 15 percent of Idaho’s teachers leave the workforce after just one year on the job. More than 30 percent of teachers who become certified in Idaho do not teach in an Idaho school. Teacher shortages continue in communities across the state.

We must recruit and retain new educators, particularly in rural, underserved, and border communities. To do that, starting teachers need to be compensated fairly and competitively. I am working to raise starting teacher pay to $40,000 a year.

Just like any other job, teachers need the right tools to deliver results.

Reading is the bedrock of every student’s success. By the third grade, our students must have already learned to read so they can read to learn. Even the best prepared students will not be able to learn efficiently throughout their education if their classmates have difficulty reading.

I am working to double the funding available to advance literacy in Idaho. Your local school districts will decide the best ways to use the funds to raise reading scores among students.

Additionally, my budget adds investment in the popular Advanced Opportunity program. The program saves Idaho families in tuition costs and it aligns with our efforts to persuade more kids to “go on” to more education or technical training after they graduate.

Successful education policy requires long-term planning and buy-in from stakeholders. Stability is important.

The diverse education task force Governor Otter assembled in 2013 worked steadfastly to create a five-year blueprint for responsible investment and reform of Idaho’s education system. The success of the task force has been the envy of other states. Once again, Idaho is showing the rest of the country how different perspectives can converge to move us forward.

Building on this successful approach, I announced I will be creating a new planning coalition called Our Kids, Idaho’s Future. It will be broad-based so that a variety of perspectives can be considered as we provide the next five-year blueprint for education investment and modernization. The group will look at Idaho’s education system holistically, addressing teacher pay, the go-on rate, the metrics for assessing our education system, and other topics.

Continued investment in public education isn’t just the right thing to do. Our bottom line depends on it. I’ve traveled extensively throughout Idaho working on economic development during my ten years as Lieutenant Governor. I can tell you, unequivocally, a strong public education system attracts investment in new and existing businesses of all sizes. We all benefit from a strong economy.

My five grandchildren are seventh generation Idahoans enrolled in Idaho’s public schools. Nothing would make Teresa and I happier than to see them 15 to 20 years from now, working in Idaho and starting their own families.

I promise them and all young Idahoans I will be a champion for education excellence and student achievement so they have the best chance to stay right here where we want them.

Written by Idaho Gov. Brad Little.

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