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COMMENTARY: Idaho needs the Quality Education Act

by BARBARA OSTIPWKO and EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| July 27, 2022 1:00 AM

I recently met an Idaho educated teacher at the public library in Coeur d’Alene. This teacher was bright, energetic and had a passion for teaching. She shared stories of classroom successes and pride for her students. Attending the University of Idaho all four years left her with debt of more than $80,000.

I assumed the teacher taught nearby and asked for the name of the school. The school was in the Central Valley District in Washington state. That teacher was very clear, in order to pay back student loans, buy a car and save for a house, teaching in Washington was her only option. The starting salary in Washington state is about $10,000 more than Idaho, and once the teacher has several years invested, Washington pays $27,000 more than Idaho in average salary. The teacher told me she loved Idaho and would prefer to teach at home, but she just couldn’t afford it.

Everyone knows that Idaho ranks dead last in per pupil spending. The average per pupil spending around the country ($14,360, Education Briefs) is 40% more than what Idaho spends ($8,376). Some people think that Idaho is doing a great job saving educational funds and returning the surplus to the people.

But defunding education in Idaho comes at a cost. We lose teachers to neighboring states, our class sizes are too big, students don’t have enough texts or current texts, we can’t hire support staff. Buildings deteriorate. The list goes on.

What is crucial is defunding impacts student performance. According to Education Week, Idaho is 40th out of 50 states in student performance. That poor performance costs our economy because businesses won’t locate here if Idaho is unable to provide an educated workforce. The costs of not funding education far exceed the cost of providing educational funding in the first place.

Many people do not realize that because property taxes fund schools, we end up with a very unequal distribution of those limited funds. People who live in well populated or well to do communities have more tax money for education. They end up with better funded schools, better materials and more qualified teachers.

But what about farmers, ranchers, miners and those in the forest products industry? Their schools have far less money because they live in less populated areas. In the recent past, some rural schools were only open four days a week because they didn’t have enough money to keep the buildings open five days straight.

Because property tax funding of schools is unequal, only some schools can offer full-day kindergarten while others cannot. Only some schools have career and technical education teachers, others do not. In fact many schools in the state have outdated textbooks, lack current student materials, can’t fund support staff or special education teachers. Educational funding needs to increase right now and we need to change the way those funds are distributed.

Where will the money come from? Not property tax! A citizen’s initiative, the Quality Education Act, will be on the ballot in November. In the initiative big corporations (C Corporations, not S corps or small family owned businesses) will see their taxes returned to 8%. That is still far less tax than you or I pay. Additionally, individuals earning more than $250,000 and married couples earning more than $500,000 will pay a small 4% tax increase on the funds earned over those amounts. If you earn less than $250,000 a year, your taxes will not increase one cent.

If this initiative passes it will bring Idaho schools about $300 million a year in increased funding. Do we need so much? In a word, YES.

Idaho remains last in student spending in spite of the 11% increase passed by the legislature this year. Decades of underfunding our schools will take longer to reverse than the time it took us to get here. Things cost more now than they did two decades ago. We are having difficulty hiring qualified teachers right now. Our students are behind right now.

According to the 2017 Workforce Development Taskforce we are in danger of becoming a talent exporter. We already train our best teachers only to have them leave to work in other states. Then we start losing businesses to other states that do a far better job educating a workforce. We need to vote for the Quality Education Act in November. Our economy and the future of Idaho depend on it.

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Evan Koch is the chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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