Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Pandemic reveals underfunding of Idaho’s schools, provides opportunity

Levi Cavener

COVID-19 didn’t cause rosters averaging 30+ students in Idaho’s classrooms.  It also isn’t the reason why districts have a textbook update plan measured in decades instead of years.  Nor is it the reason why 92 of Idaho’s 115 school districts were already asking patrons to pass levies totaling over 200 million dollars in the past year to make up for the lack of funding from our state government.

The pandemic didn’t cause any of those problems.  Truth is, adjusted for inflation Idaho never even got back to per pupil spending prior to the “Great Recession.”  In fact, Idaho remains dead last for per pupil spending in the country at just $6,747 according to a newly released report by the National Education Association.

But now the pandemic is here, and our economy has been walloped.  Our Governor has ordered a five percent reduction in the budget for K-12 schools at a moment in which schools desperately need more resources.

We need PPE.  We need more electronic devices to prepare for school closures when students and staff have inevitable outbreaks in the buildings.  We need mobile hotspot devices to send to families who do not have reliable internet access.  We need more teachers in more classrooms to reduce the numbers of bodies in a single space.  We just … need.

But the truth is our funding was already cut to the bone prior to this outbreak. And now the funding is cut again at precisely the moment we should be sending additional resources to allow schools a modicum of a chance at safely reopening.

Help isn’t coming.  Not from the state anyways.  However, this moment provides an opportunity for our citizens to demand the state comply with their constitutional obligation of a uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.

The path forward is by signing the Invest in Idaho Ballot Initiative petition sponsored by reclaim Idaho.  It would generate an estimated 170-200 million dollars per year for Idaho’s public schools.  And the federal courts have ruled that our first amendment right to petition the government doesn’t end in a pandemic.  The courts are allowing these signatures to be gathered safely online.

There are no new taxes for individuals making less than a quarter million a year or married families making half a million. The petition asks for a very modest increase in taxes for income made after the quarter or half million, and restores the corporate tax rate to where it was in year 2000.

Survey after survey shows that education remains the top priority for citizens in our state, yet even before this pandemic the legislature continued to underfund our schools.  200 million dollars in levies is proof that communities around our state understand that the state is not living up to its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund our public schools.

Now COVID-19 is here.  There is no more flesh to cut at the precise moment when schools are scrambling to provide all the resources needed to safely open schools.  If we thought class sizes were bad before, prepare to see those numbers inflate as schools postpone hiring additional teachers… at a time in which we are told to have fewer bodies distanced further away.

It is time to take action.  It is time to recognize that now is precisely the moment to invest in our schools so that they have the resources to safely continue educating our young people.  Sign the petition today at ReclaimIdaho.Org

Levi Cavener

Levi Cavener

Levi B. Cavener is a teacher living in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org

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