In Idaho, there are 115 school districts (46 of which serve 500 students or fewer). 93 of them are forced to run local supplemental levies to their voters every year or two to help support their operations, technology, student programs, and instruction ever since the 2006 state legislature shifted the tax burden from property tax to sales tax. And yet another, Blaine County School District, will now make the tally 94 as it launches its vote to the community in March. This is the real snapshot of Idaho funding woes.
Education Week’s “Quality Counts” new report not surprisingly gives Idaho a D-plus average on its state report card. Among the three categories explained by Sterling C. Lloyd in “How We Graded the States,” the Gem State scored highest in “chance for success” with a grade of C and lowest (D-minus) in “school finance.”
In addition to the above study, Idahoans are also looking at the annual Idaho Public Policy Survey by Boise State University released January 18, 2018. As Kevin Richert reports in Idaho Education News, “‘public education remains both the top policy priority for Idahoans as well as an ongoing area of concern according to a summary of the Boise State survey.” Today’s Twin Falls Times News also cites the BSU survey, pointing out that while 66 percent of the 1,000 member poll believe that the state’s post-secondary preparation is “poor or fair,” just 46 percent said the state is doing an excellent job.
On a somewhat higher note, teacher pay with the Idaho Career Ladder now beginning its fourth year is on the rise to the tune of 3.6 percent in 2017. This year, the state legislature, which only convenes each year from January through March, will decide its fate at a cost of $41.7 million. Since previous legislatures have rallied bipartisan support and the career ladder has been helping to recruit and retain teachers, it may well be the only education endorsement this year the 2018 legislature could boast about. However, the career ladder still has convincing critics: The Idaho Education Association has been quick to point out how it neglects seasoned teachers with its front-loading dollars to beginning teachers. Even State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra claims the shortage of teachers in Idaho is “a ‘crisis’ that the career ladder alone will not serve.”
The plight of districts, their students, and teachers is again in the hands of elected officials. Perhaps Idaho can better step up to their needs in 2018 and give us a sharper picture.