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Voters: We don't need no education

by Mike Ruskovich
| November 6, 2010 9:00 PM

Philanthropy can't trump hypocrisy. Kids are smart enough to sense this even if they lack the education to do anything about it. And they will tell adults, in a variety of ways, how hard it is to swallow a lecture from someone whose words and actions are disconnected. That's why adults in Idaho should not be surprised if the current and numerous commercials urging students to "go on" and extend their educations beyond high school fail.While it is admirable that the Albertson Foundation is willing to put its money where its mouth is in an effort to convince kids of education's importance, advertisements are still merely words, and the actions of this state's leaders and voters speak louder than those words.

It is no mystery why so few students in this state go on to college. Long before high school graduation they feel disenfranchised from politics and anxious to leave the classroom because they are weary of hearing from adults who don't practice what they preach about the importance of education. Kids may not know the nuances of the relationship between politics and public schools, but they can certainly feel the effects. Consider, for example, the recent midterm elections. How bizarre must it seem to students that the same leaders who slashed educational funding in record amounts won landslide elections in the same year that they did the slashing? Even to a kid it appears that these incumbents were rewarded rather than scolded for the historic cutbacks. Add to this the irony that the slashers actually campaigned on platforms professing them to be supporters of education, and little Johnny isn't fooled, even if the voters are. Just how twisted is the noose around the neck of little Johnny's future? Well, State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna launched a campaign that boasted about math scores rising during his tenure, thus hijacking credit for the improvement from the math teachers who actually deserve it. And Governor Butch Otter had the audacity to portray himself as a friend of education when the ink had barely dried on his signature which effectively removed $128 million from the state's education budget, a cut Luna supported.

These leaders - and more - were so unabashed in their claims of caring about Idaho's schools that they actually made themselves look heroic. And we believed them! Want proof? Just look at the election results. And while looking, notice that West Bonner County tried to build a library that would get rid of the one currently housed in a mobile home parked in Blanchard. It would have cost taxpayers only 21 cents for every thousand dollars of valuation. But, like schools, libraries are places of learning, so it went down to defeat. The ugly truth is that there is not only a disregard for education in Idaho but also a disdain for it. The Idaho Education Association is portrayed by those who desire the death of public education as a dangerous union that must be kept at bay by brave legislators willing to stand up to the juggernaut. And voters regularly reward the politicians who paint this picture; an endorsement from the IEA is almost as great a liability to a candidate in Idaho as the letter "D" beside a name on a ballot.

But how dangerous is the IEA, really? Starting salaries for teachers in Idaho are so low at $30,000 that anyone serious about paying off college debts isn't likely to teach here. For years the IEA has been unable to convince lawmakers and constitutional officers that forcing local districts to meet state demands without sending state funding is tantamount to sabotage. For just as long the IEA has tried unsuccessfully to increase per-pupil expenditure to the level of other states, but Idaho still hugs the bottom below even poor Mississippi. Yet Idaho politicians still demonize the IEA as a voracious monster they must control, a fear-mongering tactic that continues to garner votes for the real enemies of education. If it seems paranoid to claim Idaho politicians are edu-phobic, then consider the fact that along with practices that keep public schools struggling, elected officials more often than not, from the top down, have less formal education than those they have defeated. Just check the voter's guide to find notable examples, including local races like David Larsen's loss to Bob Nonini. Larsen has both a bachelor's and master's degree; Nonini has a year of college. Paula Marano, who has a bachelor's of science degree lost to Kathy Sims who has a GED and attended North Idaho College. But the real local eye-opener as far as lopsided educational background was Dick Harwood's defeat of Jon Ruggles. Harwood graduated from high school and attended a welding program at NIJC. Ruggles holds a B.A. in political science, a masters degree in public policy, and yet another master's in transnationalism. Obviously a certificate in welding wielded by a man who preaches Idaho sovereignty is far more attractive to local voters than a true pro-education candidate who is an expert on the constitution.

If there is a better example than that of Idaho voters choosing candidates with a low regard for education it could only be Phil Hart's victory in spite of the fact he stole timber from state lands, timber that was supposed to help fund schools. It was used, instead, to build his home. As punishment, voters gave him another term in office.So, if it isn't obvious how Idaho really feels about education in spite of what it says, just ask the kids who see the truth through the bombardment of ads trying to convince them that education is worthwhile and worth continuing.

Mike Ruskovich is a resident of Blanchard.

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