Saturday, June 15, 2024

EDITORIAL: Just what schools don't need now

| May 22, 2024 1:00 AM

You’re far from alone in standing under a financial storm cloud, Coeur d’Alene School District.

And no, we’re not referring to your superintendent’s failed bids recently to land a good job elsewhere.

About that last statement first:

Still short of his third anniversary as District 271’s leader, Superintendent Shon Hocker applied for but did not land the top job in Pueblo, Colo., or Yakima, Wash. With his district making the best it can of a roughly $6 million budget deficit, Hocker’s timing could hardly have been worse. And we said so, rather emphatically, in a recent editorial.

While that observation is legitimate, Hocker deserves credit for sitting down with The Press and explaining his position. In short, he maintains that he can run Coeur d’Alene School District full speed ahead while having gone through the application and interview process elsewhere. 

More importantly, he says he’s fully committed to the job he now has. We’ll take him at his word and hope for the very best — for the Hocker family and for the school district and community. Of course, only time will tell.

Now, back to that initial statement.

The largest single infusion of federal cash into American schools is expiring, leaving districts from coast to coast announcing staffing and other cutbacks. The $190 billion pandemic aid package — delivered between March 2020 and March 2021 — was roughly six times what the feds provide public schools in a typical year. 

The money was doled out in three rounds, with districts given three years to spend the final round. That money is now gone, leaving many of those districts with a budget shortfall for the 2024-25 school year. 

And much like Coeur d’Alene, the federal fiscal problem is exacerbated by declining enrollment and attendance which can reduce state funding — another blow at least in part attributable to the pandemic and its aftermath.

Next door in Washington state, an estimated 5,000 teachers were funded by that federal cash injection. The checks from Uncle Sam also covered another 7,000 or so staff positions. Woe be Washingtonians as they deal with their transition from windfall to shortfall.

Nationally, the least wealthy districts received the most federal money on a per-student basis, meaning the painful cuts ahead will likely hurt the districts with already poor overall financial support disproportionately.

As Idaho schools face their budget realities now, hoping without any assurance that enrollment will reverse its alarming downward trend, citizens should beat the drum hard for appropriate state funding. 

And they should be prepared to keep beating that drum well into the foreseeable future.