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COMMENTARY: A bad idea that sounds good

by BRENT REGAN/Common Sense
| July 29, 2022 1:00 AM

In 2021, Idaho spent $8,376 per student per year. With 25 students per class that is $209,400 per classroom where the average teachers wage is $51,901. Allowing for benefits and overhead that leaves over $130,000 per classroom per year spent on the public school bureaucracy. If you cut bureaucracy by 10% you could increase teacher’s average salaries by 25% to $65,000 per year.

This month, with tens of supporters looking on, the progressive liberal group known as Reclaim Idaho delivered 100,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office to put the “Quality Education Act” voter initiative on the November ballot as Proposition 1. Proponents claim that Proposition 1 will collect $323 million in new taxes on corporations and individuals who make more than $250,000/year to “improve education.”

Remember that most small businesses, the ones that hire the most people, are Sub-S corporations and their income is reported on the personal return of the owner. That means that the new taxes will be taken from the small businesses that managed to survive the pandemic shutdown. The money payed in new taxes won’t be available to pay employees.

But it gets worse. Proposition 1 was written BEFORE the 2022 legislative session which saw the passing of BOTH a $251 million tax relief package AND a $284 million increase in educator salaries and benefits. If Proposition 1 passes it will UNDO THE TAX RELIEF making the true cost to taxpayers $573 million. Proposition 1 will force everyone making more than $8,000/year to pay more in taxes.

Yes, but $323 million of the taxes collected will be added to the $284 million passed in 2022 to increase teachers’ pay even more, right? Wrong. The money will be placed in a brand new slush fund called the “Quality Education Fund” which “shall be expended by the State Board of Education to invest in betterment of public schools in Idaho.”

What is the State Board of Education (SBOE)? The SBOE has eight members, one is the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the other seven are appointed by the governor. The SBOE oversees the governance and makes policy for K-20 public education.

What does “betterment of schools” mean? Proposition 1 lists the goals as: “Reducing class sizes and preventing class size increases; attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers and support staff, including but not limited to, providing competitive salaries, offering continuing education opportunities, and providing support for new educators; attracting and retaining counselors and school psychologists; providing current and adequate classroom materials… providing enhanced instruction in civics, American history, and American government, and providing special education services.”

Sounds great, right? Until you ask what all this really means. “Highly qualified” doesn’t mean “good,” it refers to teachers that have been there the longest. “Counselors and school psychologists” could be hired to assist students in gender transitioning. “Enhanced instruction in civics” could include the 1619 Project, Common Core and Critical Race Theory. “Special education services” could include Drag Queen Story Hour.

You may be thinking that these kinds of abuses can’t happen because we have school boards to stop them. In reality this bill would give $323 million to the unelected bureaucrats at the SBOE who already have the power to make policy. If the SBOE approves a new policy it would have $323 million to dangle in front of your school board to “encourage” them to fully embrace whatever progressive policy they want.

Can it get any worse? Yep. School districts get their funding from multiple sources including the state, the federal government, grants, bonds and levies. Bonds are like mortgages that are voted on in an election and can pay for capital improvements. Levies are a local property tax that pays for maintenance and operations (M&O) and are voted on every two years. These can be difficult to pass because they are politically unpopular. About 20% of our local school district funding comes from M&O levies.

With this new tax money, the school boards will have much less pressure to run unpopular levies resulting in expensive properties getting the most tax relief.

Let’s review. This November voters will be asked to approve Proposition 1 “The Quality Education Act” which will increase taxes on nearly everyone by $573 million, depressing wages, and stunting economic growth. $323 million of the taxes collected will go into a special new fund that will be spent at the sole discretion of an eight-person board, seven of which are bureaucrats appointed by the governor, creating a textbook case of taxation without representation. There are vague “goals” for the spending but no consequences if the money is wasted.

Any funds given to school districts will have “strings attached,” reducing local control. A portion of the funding received will likely be used to reduce or eliminate M&O Levies which will mostly benefit rich property owners.

Proposition 1 is redundant to the $284 million increase in education salaries and benefits approved in the 2022 legislative session AND reverses $251 million in tax relief to needy Idaho families while increasing the power of unelected bureaucrats.

While the initiative may be well intended it is very poorly conceived, unneeded, and its consequences will be very undesirable.

It’s just common sense.

• • •

Brent Regan is the chairman of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

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