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OPINION: What is education worth to you?

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| March 8, 2023 1:00 AM

On March 14, voters across Kootenai County will be asked a simple question: what is the future of elementary education worth to you?

Our community has already spoken loudly on the value of college and technical education. North Idaho College has become a flashpoint for civic engagement.

Now, the fight for Kootenai County’s future is expanding to the youngest among us.

When you think of the future you want for North Idaho children, what comes to mind? For many of us, this future includes opportunities to thrive in a safe environment where curiosity can blossom and students learn to the best of their ability. We want caring and educated teachers who can offer the resources each kid needs. We hope for extra curricular activities like sports, arts and music where children can explore their unique talents.

All of this hangs in the balance come March 14. Specifically, if the Coeur d’Alene levy does not pass, about 25 percent of the district’s budget will disappear. A 25 percent hit to any business's bottom line would be dire. But in this case, it would be catastrophic. Public funds cannot be manipulated the same way as any average business — in order to maintain transparency with the voting public, they must be earmarked for specific things.

In this case, just over $7 million of the amount we are being asked for is earmarked for teacher salaries. This means 157 teachers would disappear. Imagine what that will do to class size. How effective can teachers be if there are more than 30 students in each class? North Idaho is already hemorrhaging exceptional teachers to Washington, where average pay is $15,000 more per year.

Special education resources would take a financial hit. If your student needs these accommodations, isn’t it worth voting on the levy?

Career and Technical Education classes would disappear, decreasing opportunity for future employment.

Enrichment and elective courses would disappear, decreasing opportunities for our children to explore and improve non-academic talents.

School resource officers would disappear. Last year Dalton Elementary had a community member with a gun in an emotional state. Our SROs and police had to keep him away from the school and get the students dismissed. Imagine what would have happened if the SRO wasn’t there?

School nurses would disappear. Students attend school with all kinds of medical conditions. Imagine the teacher trying to manage a serious asthma attack while teaching class.

Mental health programs would disappear. Whether we like it or not, students come to school distraught. If outbursts and disruptions are an issue now, imagine these children navigating a difficult day at school without mental health programs.

School maintenance workers and bus drivers would disappear. Who will take care of the building? Will there be enough bus drivers to get all the kids to school?

Suddenly, that future we imagine for North Idaho children begins to slowly disappear.

What is the price of protecting this future?

No one is disputing that voting “Yes” on the CDA levies will increase property taxes. Annually, property owners in Coeur d’Alene can expect to pay $19.04 more per $100,000 of taxable assessed value. Levies are fixed dollar amounts, meaning as more people move to Kootenai County, it lowers everyone’s overall tax burden. The only factor that might make this number go higher is increased property values. In addition, this levy amount is the lowest asked for in a decade. Of the 15 largest school districts in the state, Coeur d’Alene Public Schools’ cost is just less than $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Other Idaho school districts' cost is more than $3 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Opponents of the levies have tortured the numbers as to be grotesquely unrecognizable. If someone is telling you that your $500,000 home will be worth $1 million two years later, it’s wise to be suspicious. It’s also pretty disingenuous to call the CDA levy a “forever tax.” Public education is already by definition a forever tax. It’s written in the Idaho Constitution that Idaho (that means you and me) must maintain a free and universal system of public education.

Knowing all this, what is education worth to North Idahoans?

When North Idaho College trustees shook up that institution, young people left North Idaho for places that valued their future. Students decided to not gamble their tuition money away on a school that might not continue to be accredited.

Reasonable families could easily make the same calculation in a school district that can’t offer fundamental student support. If we want our children and grandchildren to have a future in North Idaho, we need to fight for education.

With our combined voices on March 14, Kootenai County gets a chance to put its money where its mouth is.

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Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.