There are those who think the education system is broken. Not just cracked, not broken in half, but smashed to a million pieces.
These ideas are found in newspapers, blogs and websites across the nation – and in the demands being pitched at Idaho lawmakers:
– raise the bar for student achievement, increase graduation rates, improve training and evaluation for education employees, streamline the tenure process, and consolidate school districts.
– hold teachers accountable and institute performance pay incentives, teacher tenure, electronic classrooms, e-education and virtual classrooms.
These buzz words are circulating as state governments struggle to reconcile shrinking budgets. If lawmakers don’t have the political will to change the system, they must look at how the system is funded and raise taxes.
Education in one of the largest public sector industries in Idaho. It employs thousands of people – from educators, support staff and part-time employees. Support industries also rely on the education system for their employ.
And, connected to all of those jobs are thousands of students who rely on these people for their livelihood as students, as well as their future livelihood as productive workers.
The price tag pitched to state lawmakers by State Superintendent Tom Luna, accompanied by a list of reforms for Idaho’s public education, is $1.59 billion. That includes state general and federal money.
In the 5-year plan, Luna is pushing Idaho to boost technology in the classroom and provide high school students with laptops for online learning. Luna wants to tie some teacher pay to merit, with bonuses for those who take on hard-to-fill positions and leadership roles, and forgo job security.
“This is a plan to educate more children at a higher level with limited resources,” Luna said during the hearing on last week.
The plan would be paid for by increasing the ratio of students per class from 18.2 to 19.8 during the next two years to save about $100 million annually. School districts that lose students during the school year would lose funding, saving $5.4 million to help pay for the reforms.
Jobs would be cut. In a report to the state, an estimated 770 to 825 teaching jobs, 300 classified personnel positions and 60 administrative roles would be eliminated. Luna says those jobs would be absorbed as teachers are asked to take on larger roles in the district’s education processes. He claimed an estimated 1,600 teachers leave Idaho’s public education system each year through attrition. There would be noticeable job losses.
“You cannot cut the current system any further,” Luna said. “You have to do whatever is necessary to fund the current system because you cannot cut the current system any more.”
That urgent plea to lawmakers was emphatic. The fact that Idaho’s funding per pupil is one of the lowest in the nation only emphasizes the urgency that lawmakers should feel in looking at some of the buzz words.
In any case, state lawmakers are being pushed to look at the education budget and determine how to fund the system. Time to grasp the reality, to pay for it all we’re going to have raise taxes.
Robb Hicken is managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.