A popular TED talk highlighted one of the most powerful phrases in all of politics: We the people. Why “we the people?” Because it says that we all share collective responsibility for our collective future. When we move from the politics of me to the politics of all of us together, we rediscover powerful, counterintuitive truths: that a nation is strong when it takes care of the weak, that it becomes rich when it cares for the poor, it becomes invulnerable, when it cares about the vulnerable. This is what makes great nations. It also makes great schools.
Our great Idaho schools provide universal access to free education and more. School boards, administrators, teachers, and staff guarantee equal opportunities to all children. We unify Idaho’s diverse population. We prepare people for citizenship in a democratic society. We prepare people to become economically self-sufficient and break the cycle of poverty. We improve social conditions. We prepare students to become good neighbors. Our rural schools are the hubs of their communities and the gathering place for generational pride and support. We take all of the Jamie Vollmer blueberries. Unfortunately, this year’s legislative session is already seeing another round of attacks seeking to weaken traditional schools and syphon resources away.
Vouchers, educational tax credits, and educational savings accounts contribute to a death by a thousand cuts to Idaho schools. Educational profiteers, conflict entrepreneurs, and their allies are undermining the positive steps taken in recent years to educate our children, support teachers and staff, and level the playing field for rural and remote districts.
Idaho already has a very robust parent choice mechanism: Traditional public schools, homeschool, homeschool academies, and a strategic charter school movement that literally wines and dines legislators while creating 67 new LEA’s over the past 20 years. An additional 4-5 new LEA’s are on track to be approved each year into the foreseeable future. Parent choice is alive and well in Idaho.
School buildings, classified staff pay, student mental health, and special services in rural and remote areas are just a few areas that should be bolstered before further funds are syphoned off. A couple of retired Idaho superintendents used to warn their colleagues of the state’s educational budget being cut into too many pieces. One warned of a Park Avenue style public relations campaign aimed at discrediting traditional schools. The other cautioned against accepting promises of a thoroughbred racehorse when what was really being offered was a lame mule with one of its legs replaced with sawdust. Hopefully, those days are in the past.
Friends of Idaho schools who serve in the Legislature have made tremendous strides to support our schools, students, and teachers. Gov. Brad Little’s actions have matched his strong words in support of education funding. Instead of being cut, school budgets are being generously increased. Teacher salaries are no longer frozen. Contrary to the voucher movement, these efforts move us closer to our Idaho constitutional promise of a general, uniform, and thorough system of public, free common schools. Vouchers, educational tax credits, and educational savings accounts would amount to a giant step backwards.