EDITORIAL: Education on verge of good news
Expect something extraordinary to start tomorrow.
An extraordinary session.
That’s the official name of the special session Gov. Brad Little has called, summoning members of the Idaho Legislature to Boise. The governor is the only one who can call such a session, and Little did so not to deal with a crisis, but to decide what to do with many millions of dollars crowding the state’s bank account.
We should all be so lucky.
The governor’s plan breaks down into two big buckets.
Bucket 1: A hefty tax cut and rebate for citizens.
Bucket 2: A substantial further investment in public education.
Now, this being Idaho, there’s no major chorus of citizens clamoring for the king’s crown because he wants to put money back in said citizens’ pockets. But Bucket 2 has both some vocal critics red-faced and some bystanders a bit confused.
The vocal critics you know, led by the Idaho Freedom Foundation with its stated mission to eliminate public education in the state, never mind that it’s a constitutional mandate. The confusion part is what we’ll address here.
The governor’s plan for Bucket 2 involves taking a big hunk of a surplus that could reach $2 billion and continue his stated goal of getting closer to adequately funding public education. His plan would apply $330 million annually to K-12 and $80 million a year for in-demand career training outside K-12. Those figures would go up 3% annually.
While throwing money at problems rarely solves them, Idaho by most metrics insufficiently supports what’s needed to ensure our students are prepared for the future, not just for their own good but for the state’s. Thousands of well-paying jobs are unfilled because we don’t have enough qualified people to be hired. Little has long supported education as a means to that end because a thriving economy helps everyone.
Confusion has crept into the picture because there’s another large public education investment proposal on the chalkboard, an initiative that will be decided by voters Nov. 8.
Led by the good people who helped expand Medicaid more than 2 1/2 years ago through a similar initiative, this one would increase taxes on corporations and the state’s wealthiest individuals to foot the bill of some $323 million a year. That money would be directed to strengthen K-12 programs and to better pay teachers and support staff.
If Little’s extraordinary session is successful — and there’s every indication it will be based on the broad number of co-sponsoring legislators — it will take precedence over the ballot initiative, even if voters approve it in a couple of months.
In the days ahead, please pay attention to reliable sources of information about both funding proposals rather than the spin from special interest groups. Idaho is likely on the verge of something extraordinary, so you’ll want to understand what it actually means rather than accept the distorted picture extremists on both sides might present.