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EDITORIAL: Crumbling schools see work crews en route

| March 24, 2024 1:00 AM

Kootenai County legislators have taken some heat in this column over the past two years.

Today, though, is not one of those days.

In voting almost unanimously for the bill that will provide desperately needed funding for K-12 school buildings — $2 billion over the next 10 years — our contingent supported public education and delivered a nice little tax cut for the public, too. Rep. Joe Alfieri was absent; otherwise, “ayes” won the day as the bill headed toward Gov. Brad Little’s desk.

House Bill 521 did not pass without opposition, controversy and some legitimate concerns, however.

Some legislative Democrats opposed the bill because in their view, it didn’t go far enough. Criticism that the funding won’t do enough to help small, rural districts — especially those that can’t pass bonds for new buildings — are valid.

But remembering that perfect is the enemy of good, this legislature at least loaded a fleet of construction and repair vehicles and started the engines. That’s progress.

Locally, Coeur d’Alene School District stands to receive an estimated $36.7 million; Post Falls, $23 million; and Lakeland, $18 million. Granted, even if the checks were delivered today, those sums wouldn’t come close to fixing everything. But it’s a great start that could create some momentum in future sessions.

As with most funding bills, not everyone is getting everything they want — and those on the receiving end are likely getting some things they don’t want.

For instance, August election dates for school-funding issues are no longer allowed. Appointment authority for the Idaho State Board of Education leadership is being restructured. And the biggest potential thorn, particularly for Post Falls and potentially Coeur d’Alene: districts will have to meet minimum instruction and teacher contract days. Those minimums have not yet been established but they could impinge on districts operating on four-day school weeks.

As of Friday afternoon, the Legislature hadn’t adopted its overall budget for K-12. Debbie Critchfield, the state’s top education official, was encouraged by funding developments Friday morning that she deemed highly supportive of public education, perhaps enough to close some of the gaps that are leading to school district budget deficits.

Here’s hoping we’ll soon be able to praise our legislators again.