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Op-Ed: Reasons to vote 'yes' on Cd'A levy

by TOM HEARN/Special to The Press
| February 23, 2021 1:00 AM

In this time of a pandemic and significant stress on families, students and schools, we should not be taking away necessary educational services from our students. Why should we put an additional burden on our students who have already suffered a great deal in the last year due to the changes in their education they have endured because of the pandemic?

In Coeur d’Alene, the supplemental levy helps pay for school counselors, school busses with seat belts, laptop computers, classroom teachers and student support staff, law enforcement in the form of school resource officers, nurses, mental health programs, music, athletics and arts programs, professional training of the teaching staff, etc. Good schools help build the economy in the 21st century. Nearly every place in the country with a thriving high wage economy also has a good educational system at all levels.

When I was on the School Board of the Coeur d’Alene School District, one of the complaints I heard about levy requests was that the school taxes were too high and an unfair tax burden. If you are a resident of Coeur d’Alene, look at your property tax bill and you will likely find that the percentage of your property tax bill going to public schools is less than 20%. A much higher percentage of the property tax bill goes to the city and county. The current proposed levy rate in Coeur d’Alene, which is the sixth largest school district in Idaho and that also ranks 34th in its levy rate, drops the levy rate even further.

If your overall property tax bill does not go down this year it is not because of local funding of our public schools. It has to do with three factors: First is the unprecedented increase in property values due to a fevered real estate market. The second is the fact that the Legislature, to give a tax break to businesses, changed the homeowner’s exemption in 2016. This legislation lessened the tax burden on businesses, instead shifting and increasing the tax burden to homeowners. It used to be that each homeowner received an exemption on 50% of their home value up to a floating amount tied to the Idaho Housing Price Index. The tax exemption would rise and fall with the housing market. However, the Legislature capped the deduction at $100,000 regardless of the increased value of the house, something that the Legislature so far has failed to rectify. So, no matter what your house is now worth, your homeowner’s exemption will not increase thanks to this unfair tax-shifting legislation.

The third reason for local property taxes for schools is the lack of legislative funding of public schools thus pushing the burden of school funding to the local level. Despite funding increases in recent years in the Legislature, 2020 data shows that per student expenditures in Idaho is still among the lowest in the country. Recent 2020 data shows that the chronic lack of adequate state funding forced 92 of the 115 school districts in the state to turn to local taxpayers for funding of our public schools.

Another reason some people oppose a supplemental levy is that the public schools are falsely accused of teaching a socialist, un-American and atheistic curriculum. When I have asked for even one example, these people frequently admit that they have never actually looked at the class curriculum or sat in to observe classroom teachers in Coeur d’Alene. Their opinion is often based on something they heard or read. Getting one’s information about public schools from social media or biased news sources, is certainly not a basis on which to falsely label and unfairly criticize the teaching and curriculum in our Coeur d’Alene public schools.

And why is it that for some, the levy has become a partisan political issue? The recommendation of some partisan political opponents of the levy in Coeur d’Alene, is “to control our children’s education through the purse strings.” Without citing any specific numbers or facts, these opponents claim that school boards can save money by more online learning options, reducing administrative costs without specific suggestion for cuts, more “parental involvement,” transparency, “classical education not social indoctrination,” restraining the teacher’s union, eliminating Common Core, etc. Their solution to their false allegations of a “failing education” in our local public schools is to simply claim that all the school levies in Kootenai County are “too high.” Their recommendations are often based on nothing more than an anti-public-school philosophy. Often, when questioned, the political leaders frequently admit they prefer homeschooling or private or church schools to public schools. The financial benefit to our schools of partisan-based remedies is questionable at best and certainly not a reason for opposing the supplemental levy in Coeur d’Alene.

This levy funding is not excessive or partisan. It is what our children need and what voters have historically supported. Please vote Yes for our schools on March 9.

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Tom Hearn is a Coeur d'Alene resident.