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Education reform left to the states

Robb Hicken

Robb Hicken

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.

About Robb Hicken


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  5. Mr. Knowledge, you forgot Idaho is also 49th in per pupil public school spending, and the ONLY US STATE requiring a supermajority (66.7%) to pass an ordinary school bond, besides the Legislature totally ignoring the Idaho Supreme Court ruling in 2005 (after fighting it in court 15 years) to provide an adequate amount of M&O monies for school districts. On that one, ask Boise atty Robt Huntley (http://www.spokesmanreview.com/breaking/story.asp?ID=10289) last told, they’re still fighting it out in federal court.

    Forget we have America’s 9th highest income tax rates & the only US state in the west without constitutional home-rule for the towns, cities, & counties…on this gaping education question I keep waiting for the other corporate shoes to drop. Maybe it’ll never happen, but at some point the remaining world-class tech companies here are going to wonder why the hell they’re still around.

  6. Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

    It is laughable that the solution to our education budget problems is to buy a laptop for every kid, mandate that they take online courses (uh, whatever happened to that most hallowed conservative mantra of “local control”), and fire more teachers.

    Kids in this state already use computers every day in the classroom. My son has done it ever since the second grade. Most kids have computers at home. Giving kids laptops somehow changes things?

    If I wanted to become a scratch golfer I’d do it by taking lessons from a live human being, playing a lot, and having good equipment. I wouldn’t do it by watching videos with swing tips on the internet.

    The budget shortfall could be easily solved by increasing taxes on people like me who do pretty well, or getting rid of the many tax breaks we dole out to various special interests and corporations every year.

    Apparently these things just can’t happen in our fine state, with a governor who has referred to tax increases at times as “robbery,” and a legislature that is largely comprised of folks who grew up on farms and ranches who think that staying on the farm or ranch is just fine and that higher education is elitist. (I know that not all of them think that way, but, I’m afraid that a sizable number do.)

    Our education performance is ****. We are 49th in college entry, and 50th in retention of students from freshman to sophomore years. We are at the bottom in per student spending with states like Mississippi.

    Isn’t it obvious that the answer is to spend even less money on education than we already do, seeing that our penury has bought us nothing but success decade after decade?

    No small part of this country’s economic success since WWII has been its fantastic public education system and cooperation between government, colleges, and universities. The system has pumped out the intellectual property – and attracted the worldwide talent – that have driven our economy for decades.

    A lot of countries in this world realize the value of education and that you have to spend money to make money. Thankfully plenty of states in our union recognize that as well.

    Until Idaho joins the bandwagon we’ll continue to be nothing much more than an agricultural state blind to the fact that cutting logs and selling potatoes, grain and milk to the world (and subsidizing all of the above) is the road to stagnation.

    And we’ll also be a state where parents like me take their kids out of public school so they can be instructed by live teachers in all of their classes, and tell their kids that to get the best college education they need to go out of state.