My family saw education as the way to reach our concept of middle class. We didn’t see our selves as rich but sought a quality lifestyle, a decent job, a car, a house, some vacation money and a bit extra for any emergency. My father said get a good education, no one can take it away from you. I understood what he meant but wondered who might want to take it away. Now I have a clearer idea what that meant. We deprive ourselves of the best education through the people we elect.
The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy analyzed public school funding between 1980 -2013. Two significant conclusions were reached:
1.) Since 2000 Idaho State Funding for maintenance and operations has declined
2.) The need for School District levies for maintenance and operations has increased
Through the late 1990’s public schools in Idaho were funded reasonably well. Starting in 2000 the state engaged in tax reductions for corporations and individuals. The one exception was In 2006 the legislature under Governor Risch in a special session approved an increase in the sales tax from 5% – 6%. It eliminated the maintenance and operations levy that was used in the state funding formula for public schools. This resulted in exchanging a $260 million dollar property tax reduction for a $210 million dollar sales tax increase. It cut the share for public school maintenance and operation funding coming from property taxes by over half. Shortly after along came the recession, revenues declined further and public schools took another hit. We are now told by our leaders how state funding was increased dramatically in 2016. It is true a substantial increase in Idaho State funding for public schools was provided. That increase brings us back to where we were in 2007. Just in case we aren’t paying attention that was a decade ago. Can you run a business or provide for your family if you were economically in the same place today as you were 12 years ago? Further 93 of 115 school districts need supplemental levies for funding needs. In 2007 only 60 districts needed supplemental levies.
How are Public schools coping with more children, more supplies, more employees needed and less money? Public institutions are funded basically through taxes. Local property taxes ultimately become not the last but the only option. Many see it as unfair to some property owners. Public education isn’t a convenience, it is essential for the wellbeing of our community and our citizens. The attitude of some people today is I have no children in school why should I pay. They claim there are other ways to fund schools, but how? The question often comes down to what’s in it for me? A recent Coeur d’Alene Press article answered that with one word, “lots.” Educated people earn more and maintain jobs. If people are working they do not need as many public services resulting due to long term unemployment. There is a lower rate of incarceration, more economic growth and higher GNP due to an educated population. We all benefit but most importantly our children grow to a more secure economic future. As the article states this information is based on research by reputable organizations.
Both common sense and academic research confirm money matters for educational outcomes. Poor children attending better funded schools complete high school, earn more and have lower poverty rates according to the Center for Budget Policy & Priories. It’s not an issue of only helping poorer families and children. As revenues declined schools cut back including the number of employees while student numbers have continued to increase. Workers today require a high degree of technical and analytical skills, failing to meet this need can have a long lasting effect on our economy.
General funding per student between 2008 – 2018 in Idaho fell -7% according to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities. Tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy have continued. The number of sales tax exemptions granted by the legislature have grown. The legislature has considered eliminating the sales tax. Another economic downtown with a further loss of revenue would be be devastating on public schools. We need leaders who understand and will seek better ways to increase revenues. We need an open an honest discussion on funding for public schools, after all the state constitution requires it and our children deserve it.
March 12th is Election Day for the levy needed here in Kootenai County. As the Superintendent, Dr. Steven Cook, has explained the additional money is absolutely needed for maintenance and operation of our schools. When approved it should result in a minimal increase in what we pay in property taxes. Failing to approve it can have a devastating effect on our community due to the potential decline in the quality of life for all. Funding less or not enough for quality education while paying more for incarceration as the numbers increase is not an acceptable trade. My choice is to support the levy and then work to elect leaders who have more equitable funding solutions for K – 12. Education vs incarceration, I’ve made my choice. What’s yours?