Tuesday, October 03, 2023

OPINION: In the fight for education, the safe middle ground is quickly disappearing

by EVAN KOCH/More Perfect Union
| March 22, 2023 1:00 AM

“All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” That was Edmund Burke’s 18th century defense of the American Colonies in the English House of Commons.

Last week, 72.2 percent of Kootenai County voters didn’t vote and levies failed in the Coeur d’Alene and Lakeland school districts.

To be fair, we have no right to condemn these people. Political engagement in Kootenai County will at best give you a few more gray hairs, and at worst make you feel nauseated.

Rather than stepping into the fray, many chose to protect their peace by checking out. We must not be critical of people who are choosing to protect their mental health.

Unfortunately, the slime of Kootenai County Republican Central Committee politics is now seeping under everyone’s door and reaching for the most vulnerable among us: our children. For the parents of more than 11,000 children who attend local public schools, the safe middle ground is quickly disappearing.

Kootenai County’s most powerful and well-funded political machine, the Republican Central Committee, has decided to throw its full weight behind the demise of public education in Coeur d’Alene. Facing job losses, suddenly every teacher in Kootenai County is glaringly aware of how little the KCRCC values them. For parents, it’s hard to ignore politics when your child’s music, theater or sports program has been defunded via the voters.

Like it or not, the Republicans have thrown down the gauntlet in the arena of public education. Your children are no longer scholars, or musicians, or athletes. They are political tools wielded as weapons. This is wrong.

For the more than 70 percent of Kootenai County voters who didn’t take a stand, the fight is coming to you. If we don’t put out the fire now and approve local levies on the May ballot, the KCRCC will burn down North Idaho's entire educational infrastructure — everything from kindergarten to college.

Not only is the future of our scholars, musicians and athletes at stake. Safe schools offer crucial child care for working parents.

With the failure of Coeur d'Alene’s levy, full-day kindergarten could be back to half day, with reduced times. Because kindergarten is not technically required by Idaho, we may lose kindergarten altogether.

After-school sports programs will be gone. Art, music and PE will disappear. As a result of this, K-12 schools could be getting out an hour earlier. This means middle school and high school will be out around 1:20 p.m., and elementary school will be out around 2:30 p.m.

What will all this do to working parents?

In May, we will be asked on our ballots to financially save what’s left of our schools. The thousands of people who didn’t vote in March must understand that in the fight for Kootenai County’s children, complacency is now complicity. As hard as it might be, we cannot sit back and do nothing.

Make a plan to vote, and bring at least one friend with you.

Even if your voice falters, speak up. Make a phone call, send an email, or post on social media about how much sports, theater, music, school resource officers, librarians, mental health professionals and teachers mean to you personally. Make it short and simple.

If you are a business owner, put out public statements of support. Take a stand in a Letter to the Editor of the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Volunteer in a classroom — even if you don’t have children in school. This volunteering might mean you are reading with children or making copies for classrooms. Background checks are required for this, but the process is worth it. One or two hours per week lets you see firsthand what is really going on in our classrooms.

Most importantly, we can all pressure our Idaho State Legislators to fix this property tax problem once and for all. Instead of local levies needing our hard-earned money, legislators have the ability to ease property tax burdens with our state’s overflowing sales tax money.

Whatever you do, do something. Being brave might temporarily shake up your non-political peace, but Kootenai County’s future is worth it.

• • •

Evan Koch is chairman of the Kootenai County Democrats.

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