Regardless of our race, income or political ideology, we all want Boise to have the best public schools. A quality public education is critical to the success of our children and our economy. But too often, the debate on public education quality revolves around the question of spending more or spending less. The debate almost never revolves around spending better.
As a parent of four children enrolled in Boise’s Public Schools, I want our schools fully funded. But as I watch the unfolding of global economic events, it’s clear that we can no longer make public funding decisions in a vacuum. We need to replace the current practice of making a series of isolated spending decisions with a comprehensive budgeting process that looks at what we can afford and how we best allocate those limited funds across an array of needs.
Sadly, on March 13th, Boise residents will be asked to make a choice in a vacuum, a choice that reflects the debate of the past – to spend more or spend less on our public schools. It’s a binary choice between raising our own property taxes in order to increase funding for our public schools or to oppose higher property taxes on ourselves and leave our schools inadequately funded. The voter is penalized no matter how they vote. Nowhere in the debate has the question been asked – how do we spend better?
A review of the facts contained in the Independent School District of Boise City’s proposed budget for 2011-2012 shows why this property tax levy is such a bad choice for voters.
The District far exceeds the statewide per pupil funding average and the results have been exemplary – Boise’s high schools are among the top 7% of all public schools in the country. The high school graduation rate is 96%. Boise students’ test scores exceed state and national averages. That’s success must continue.
At the same time, the District’s budget cites the drop in local property valuations and resulting decrease in property tax receipts as a major reason for the current funding shortage. Despite the drop in tax receipts, Tax-Rates.org reports Ada County already has, “one of the highest median property tax rates in the United States”. That’s a failure we must end.
Raising property taxes will not fix the collapse of the housing market, high unemployment or stagnant wages that impact school funding. Raising property taxes will only make it worse. And to ask senior citizens living on a fixed income to either pay higher property taxes or forego other essentials in their lives simply isn’t a fair choice.
There has to be a better way. The problem is our elected officials have failed to provide us with viable alternatives, while the defenders of the status quo scare us by saying our only options are cutting teachers, reducing course offerings or increasing class size.
As voters, we should demand our leaders present us with other options like consolidating school districts to reduce bureaucracy and put more money into the classroom or creating a statewide insurance pool to negotiate lower insurance rates for teachers. These types of solutions would be a win for our schools and a win for us taxpayers.
But our elected officials will never explore options like these if we give them the easy out by raising our property taxes instead. On Tuesday, March 13th, vote no on higher property taxes. We deserve a better choice.
Greg Strimple is a Boise public school parent, small businessman, and taxpayer who is saddened by the lack of leadership on education.