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Cutting funds doesn't make schools better

by EVAN KOCH/Guest Opinion
| March 27, 2021 1:00 AM

On Wednesday March 17 a guest opinion by the Kootenai County Republican leadership voiced opposition to the current property tax that funds our public school’s supplemental levy. Unfortunately, the anti-levy piece made it clear that falsehood is alive and well in Coeur d’Alene.

Opponents of the levy claimed without evidence that school budgets are bloated, and that the education system does not need supplemental resources. Idaho spends just $6,447 per student per year, last among the 50 states. Idaho spends just over half of America’s average per student annual expenditure ($12,978).

In 1988, to generate more education funding, Idaho changed its Constitution in order to authorize a lottery. Since its inception the lottery proceeds have provided over $694 million to Idaho’s schools. The state Legislature is ending the Powerball lottery this summer because its managers expanded it to citizens of countries that exercise gun control.

In another recent blow to education funding, state legislators turned down $6 million in federal dollars that would support literacy and early childhood education. With this record of underfunding in mind, no one should believe that Idaho’s education budget is bloated.

Opponents of the levy claim there is widespread parental dissatisfaction with “government schools” that drives increased enrollment in private and charter schools. Levy opponents imply that public schools therefore don’t deserve a supplemental levy.

Beginning in 2019, the Idaho Department of Education measured satisfaction by surveying students, parents, and teachers. Results were shared with each school, but not publicized on the department’s website. The survey was suspended in 2020 because schools were closed by the pandemic. So there is no satisfactory data that is publicly available. How then could levy opponents claim to know there is widespread parental dissatisfaction with public schools?

Levy opponents complain that nonpartisan school board elections do not coincide with general elections. That’s by intention, so school boards remain nonpartisan. By holding school board elections on the same day as general elections, partisan candidates can expect to win seats on school boards. They can then drive their political agenda throughout schools.

The evidence for this can be found among those Republicans who already serve on school boards as elected trustees. The KCRCC op-ed portrays them as dedicated volunteers who care only about the quality of education. But they are carefully vetted by the local Republican Party. Each one was likely rated based on their voting record, their adherence to the “Idaho Republican Platform,” and to “Constitutional and Traditional values” (meaning they oppose diversity and human rights).

One such Republican now chairs the board of trustees at North Idaho College. He is a noneducator with a new Republican majority on his board. He is credibly accused of sexual harassment and bullying anyone standing in the way of his political agenda, including the college president. This sort of politicization corrupts education and deteriorates our schools to an even lower level.

Kootenai County voters want good public education. Voters recently approved supplemental levies in three out of our four school districts. There is certainly room for improvement. But Kootenai County schools can only improve if they have adequate funding and remain free of political influence.

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Evan Koch is chair of the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee.