Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Some answers you seek and the right questions to ask

In response to the recent piece by Chris Cargill about the questions we, as Idahoans, should be asking I thought it would be helpful to Mr. Cargill to provide some answers, context, and clarity. First off, lets just note that in his second paragraph he notes that the clear results from the poll his organization ran are that Idahoans feel that we need to spend more money on education and value education investment. Now we can get into the meat, where Mr. Cargill explains why these sentiments that were clearly espoused by Idahoans are misguided or at least they are answers to the wrong questions (keeping in mind that Mr. Cargill’s organization asked the questions here.)

In answering his questions about how much we should spend on education and how we know we are spending enough my answers are more and when we say so. Now, I don’t expect Mr. Cargill to be aware of the realities of the Idaho public school system. He didn’t attend school in Idaho, and currently doesn’t actually live in Idaho. Odd that if our education system is doing great that he doesn’t select it for his own children. However, I’ll add the context and clarity for Mr. Cargill, we do not know how much to spend per student or how we know we are doing well because in the last few decades of one-party rule we have never spent enough nor had outcomes that would lead anyone to believe we were spending enough. Someone who has never tasted ice cream wouldn’t have much of an opinion of flavors or quantities to order. Similarly, how can Idahoans or their legislators have the first clue what the answers to these questions are when we have never experienced either well-funded or well-performing schools.

Little correlation between spending and achievement is the next claim made here with the throwaway line about our spending more than other developed nations. In America we spend more than any other nation on everything, and from my capitalist understanding that is kind of the point. However, if there is no correlation between spending and outcomes what do we say about this ordering of spending and outcomes, data sourced from the US News report?

From my reading of this table, if you want your child to receive an education in a state that is in the top 10 of outcomes then seven of those top 10 have an education spend in the upper half of all states. That shows a relatively strong correlation between outcomes and spending around the 0.60 range. That doesn’t seem to fit the claim that there is “little correlation.” It isn’t clear that states who do spend don’t have the best outcomes, at least from this data, but it is possible that spending less can also give you positive outcomes, looking at you Colorado and Indiana.

Now I was born, raised, and educated here in Idaho. I can tell Mr. Cargill now that I’ve seen my kids through over half of the K-12 grades that not a lot has changed since I was in the schools and any recognition for improvement made in our schools is still, as it was in the 90s, due to outstanding and passionate educators who could make a lot more money elsewhere. This doesn’t mean every Idaho child should have to go to the same style school and have identical curriculums. There is a place for having some alternative educational options around our state to suit a variety of needs, we know that because we have it now in our public and private charter systems.

So, to sum up, Idahoans broadly and clearly feel we should invest more in education funding. Mr. Cargill’s group is trying to overcomplicate what appears to be a simple mandate from his own poll with a series of poorly argued points absent statistical validity or strong foundational logic. The West Virginia Supreme Court gets a random callout. Interesting that he didn’t cite the ISEEO case where the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that our funding levels were unconstitutional. And he wraps it up without a clear call to action or defined set of areas where Idaho is failing on the school choice front now.

So, when Mr. Cargill asks should we spend $20,000 or $30,000 per student, I say sure. Either. Both. Because my city’s schools are dissolving before our very eyes, our middle schools have one school counselor for approximately 400 students, and we have a math teacher in one East Idaho district without a math degree. We’ll let you know when we’ve had enough funding, Mr. Cargill. Maybe when we show up on one of these fancy lists the US News puts out.

State investment data https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/articles/2022-08-26/which-states-invest-the-most-in-their-students

State outcomes data https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education/prek-12

Torrey Mortenson

Torrey Mortenson

Torrey Mortenson is a human factors scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory, a dad, and lifelong Idaho student. He has advanced degrees in psychology and a bachelor's in philosophy from Idaho State University.

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