OPINION
Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

An opinion from a former Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction

Jerry Evans

Please understand, I have no personal axe to grind regarding Debbie Critchfield, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction.

As best I can determine, she is a very nice person, intelligent and well-intentioned with respect to the education of Idaho’s children.

However, as important and complex education issues come before the Idaho Legislature being a nice person with good intentions is not enough.

To avoid a multi-subject mess like House Bill 521, the school facilities act, we need focused leadership that comes from practical school finance experience, armed with data and a commitment to Idaho’s Constitution.

The governor teed up this discussion of the problem with school facilities very well.  Not enough money to adequately maintain schools and an extremely high bar to achieve new buildings with a 2/3 approval from voters.

There seemed to be a good understanding of the problem and the solution—more money.

The leaderless legislature tackled the problem with HB 521 and eventually four so-called trailer bills.

Even though a lack of money was the problem, the first item in the bill was to cut the personal and corporate tax rate and to divert over 100 million dollars of sales tax to cover bond interest payments.  Thus, now and in the future, decreasing state revenue to deal with the problem.

The legislators admitted the situation would still require participation of local property taxes, but perhaps at a lower rate.  The legislators not only didn’t make bonds easier to pass by addressing the 2/3 requirement, they also further restricted the process.  By eliminating the August election date, the legislators made it more difficult to solve the problem.

They decided the state facilities money would be distributed to school districts based on average daily attendance, thus completely ignoring the vast difference in the assessed value per pupil from one district to another.

Essentially, the legislators said, ‘We know, with respect to collecting taxes, we have a wide range of ability, but we will assist the very richest the same as the very poorest.

There was no attempt to equalize taking into account money from both sources to provide a degree of fairness to all.

By distributing facilities money on an ADA basis, there was absolutely no consideration of the local circumstances.  Districts with huge unmet facilities problems were treated the same as those with less acute needs.

There was concern raised about the four-day school week and the minimum hours of instruction in terms of participation in school facilities funds.  But, this was postponed by requiring the State Board of Education to review the requirements.

More appropriate would have been a discussion about a financial incentive for school districts who exceed the minimum instructional hours, especially when accompanied with increased student performance.

There are numerous other problems with HB 521.  I will save them for another day.  However, I must point out the most glaring problem with the bill.

It is clearly in violation of the Idaho Constitution and the single subject requirement as found in Article III, Section 16.

Thus, the Idaho Constitution clearly prohibits legislation that embraces more than one subject.  Anyone reading HB 521, and the Idaho Constitution, can only conclude HB 521 is a clear violation.

What makes HB 521’s multiple subjects so dangerous is that it invites more so-called “Christmas Tree” bills that include bad public policy additions to the occasional good public policy goals.  The bad public policy additions would never pass, if vetted, discussed, and considered on their own.

Several legislators expressed displeasure with the features of HB 521, but ultimately voted for it because, as they said, “Something is better than nothing.”

On the contrary, I believe, “We can do better.”

My hope is that some individuals or entities can establish standing to challenge HB 521 in court and return Idaho to the requirements of Article III, Section 16’s requirement of the Idaho Constitution.

This situation is simply too important to ignore.

Republican Jerry Evans represented Idaho public schools from 1979 to 1995.

Jerry Evans

Jerry Evans

Jerry L. Evans served as a Republican Idaho state superintendent of public instruction from 1979 until 1995.

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday