OPINION: Education funding out of whack

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Why don’t Idaho teachers make $216,000 a year? It is a valid question as Idaho spends about $7,500 a year per student, supplemental levies add about $1,500 per student, and the average class size is 24 students. That means that Idaho is spending $216,000 per year on the average classroom of students. But the average teacher pay is $44,000, so where is the other $172,000 going?

That same teacher receives another $16,000 in benefits, like insurance. OK, so where is the $156,000 going?

In a typical school district, wages and benefits will consume 80% of the budget, leaving 20% for everything else (overhead). In our average Idaho classroom that means $43,000 is going into overhead, which leaves $113,000 per year per class that is not going to the teacher or the classroom. So where is the $113,000 going? Well, it must be going to salaries and benefits of people who are not the teacher.

For every teacher there are two “not teachers” employed by the district. Administrators, custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, assistants, etc. The effect is that for every $100 you spend on public education, only $20 goes to pay your child’s teacher. The rest is absorbed by the public education bureaucracy. This also means that for every dollar increase in education spending, only 20 cents is available for teacher pay.

This simple fact is why throwing money at the education “problem” never produces the desired results and why the claim that “we just haven’t spent enough” is blatantly false. What needs to happen is to reduce the bureaucracy because if we can reduce bureaucratic overhead only 10%, we can increase teacher pay by 40% without growing the education budget by one dollar.

These facts are why a new initiative that is circulating which claims to “Invest in Idaho” is so misguided. What “invest in Idaho” really does is add a new tax on employers and then creates a new government agency populated by unaccountable bureaucrats to distribute whatever tax funds they don’t consume according to some secret “formula.” Any school lucky enough to get this trickle down money will simply reduce their supplemental property tax levies by that amount because school boards set levies as the difference between the money they get from the state and the money they spend.

To review, the “Invest in Idaho” initiative would put a new tax on employers, reducing the money available to hire Idaho citizens and motivating employers to locate in a tax friendly state like Nevada. The tax money collected would be put in the hands of a new government agency where unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats would decide who gets how much according to a secret “formula”. The money that is distributed to school districts will be used to reduce supplemental property tax levies. And who benefits the most from lower property taxes? People with a lot of property to tax, rich people.

If, by some miracle, any of this money actually goes to increase a school’s budget, the teachers, remember the teachers are the reason for all this, the teachers may see up to 20 cents for every dollar. If this scam is really an “investment,” then it would have a rating somewhere lower than Junk Bond.

The true reason for this initiative is likely that new supplemental levies are failing all over the state because the “it’s for the children” argument isn’t working in the absence of positive results. A new funding source is needed and a tax on employers fits the bill. It’s only 3%, and once established, tax rates never increase, right?

Let’s hope we’re not that ignorant.


Brent Regan is a Coeur d’Alene resident.

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