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Please vote yes for our schools

by Michele Chmielewski
| June 26, 2010 9:00 PM

Congressman Walt Minnick is in North Idaho this week. We're always pleased to see him here, but especially now since - very soon, perhaps before the Fourth of July - he will have the opportunity to help save several thousand jobs in Idaho by voting for the Education Jobs Fund now before Congress.

Idaho school districts have been struggling since March to deal with the historic, first-ever cuts imposed by the 2010 Idaho Legislature. In some Idaho districts, teachers will be taking as many as 14 furlough days next school year. Idaho's minimum teacher salary has declined twice in the past two years, and it's now $29,655, placing our state among the lowest in the nation for teacher pay.

Teachers will be asked to do more for less this fall, but the impact on our children will be even greater. Budget cuts mean classrooms will be more crowded next fall, as districts decline to fill vacancies left by retiring teachers or people who've found better-paying school jobs in Washington state. Bus rides will be longer - an elementary school in Boundary County is closing its doors for good - and many sports and club activities will be curtailed.

But by voting yes on the Education Jobs Bill, Congressman Minnick can help ensure that outright layoffs are minimized and that districts can afford to replace teachers and others who work in our schools. The National Education Association estimates that the bill would bring $118 million to Idaho to help save as many as 3,600 education jobs statewide.

Like all Idahoans, teachers share Congressman Minnick's concern over the budget deficit. We, too, want to be sure that our children aren't paying off our nation's debts decades from now. But although the jobs bill would add to the deficit in the short term, just as all government spending does, this money represents a long-term investment in our children's future and the economic vitality of our state.

Idahoans are fiscally conservative, yet when it comes to mortgaging our children's future through inadequate educational opportunities, we must say "enough." More than 80 percent of Idahoans opposed the cuts to K-12 education, according to a Grove Insight poll taken in March. A USA Today/Gallup Poll taken in June found that 60 percent of Americans approve of more government spending to stimulate the economy and create jobs.

Although our economy is recovering, state and local revenues have not yet returned to pre-recession levels, and school budgets will continue to be squeezed unless Congress acts soon. The ultimate losers in this scenario would be Idaho's children.

If you see Congressman Minnick in his travels this weekend, please ask him to include the Education Jobs Fund in the emergency funding bills now moving through Congress.

If your paths don't cross, ask his support via his website at www.minnick.house.gov, or call his North Idaho field office at 667-0127. Together, we can save Idaho jobs and do better for our children.

Michele Chmielewski, a teacher in Post Falls, is president of the Idaho Education Association's Region 1.

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