Thankfully, a healthy majority of Republican and Democratic voters largely agree on one thing. We are now, have always been, and will always be strong supporters of education at all levels. Most of us who share that value and commitment realize that, as much as some might suggest otherwise, a very substantial (not entire, but substantial) determiner of educational quality derives from the adequacy of its funding.
The educational rubber meets the financial road for Twin Falls voters today through Tuesday of next week. We need to vote in support of a two-year continuation of the 2015-17 supplemental levy. Since the continuation request is actually a half-million dollars less for the next two years than it was from 2015 through 2017, and since housing has expanded in Twin Falls, the tax rate per dollar property evaluation will actually decline slightly. That fact strongly validates how hard Superintendent Wiley Dobbs and District 411’s entire teaching and management staff work to assure every penny of our taxes are being wisely spent.
I’ve written often about our legislators’ failure to adequately fund Idaho education. If that constitutional requirement was being properly met there would be no need for the cycle of bond and levy dependency Idaho schools and citizens have been forced into to meet our children’s minimum educational needs. Of Idaho’s 115 school districts and charter entities, 93 currently depend on supplemental levies to meet financial requirements to provide our youth absolute bare minimum educational necessities. On March 14, over $709 million in new or continuing educational bonds, facilities levies or supplemental levies will be determined by voters of 45 districts — again, to provide bare bones funding.
These funds are essential to maintain infrastructure, acquire new textbooks, retain current teachers and recruit new ones. Some districts are replacing buildings that predate television. Twin Falls has recently added several new schools and is dealing with many related challenges in real time. Failure to pass the current levy would be a 10 percent hit on its operating budget. Staff positions, teacher-student ratios, electives, athletics, activities, teacher training and technology acquisition would all be subject to drastic reductions. Superintendent Dobbs assured me personally: “The teacher shortage is real.” Teacher recruitment in Idaho suffers due to low funding. Twin Falls has become dependent upon “alternative authorizations”(uncertificated teachers) and student-teachers to provide instruction.
Let’s put some of District 411’s needs in perspective. The 2014-15 per pupil spending average nationally was $11,009. In that same school year Idaho’s average was $6,621. In the 2015-16 school year District 411’s per pupil spending was $5,291. That means Twin Falls not only spends less than half the national average of two years ago, it is also operating at 20 percent below the Idaho state average. And that 2015-16 per student spending was still $96 below the 2009-10 school year. As the district explains, $5,291 comes to approximately $3.67 per hour per student, or $29.39 per day. This scant allotment covers everything: transportation, salaries, textbooks, supplies, technology, operations, utilities, maintenance, etc.
The Twin Falls School District has been very frugal over the years, managing to save funds via a variety of strategies. During the recent recession these savings were draw down significantly to maintain operation: $3.2 million in 2008, $1.5 million in 2014 and $2.8 million (under three weeks operating costs) this year. As Mike Gibson of the district’s Budget Advisory Committee said last December, “The state provides funding for the minimum educational experience. We do not want our schools to simply be the minimum.”
It is true that state funding has increased recently, but it has not kept up with the growth in the student population or covered the erosion of capacity and functionality resulting from the recession’s amputation of necessary funds. The eight-year lapse in adequate funding has delayed infrastructure maintenance or expansion, technology, textbook, supplies and curriculum upgrades. Hence: The three-quarter-billion dollar statewide bond blizzard at the polls March 14. The backlog has essentially been ignored by our legislators. The legislature has pushed the burden down to local communities. That strategy is disproportionately harsh on some communities over others, especially small rural communities. I’ll save that larger discussion for another day.
Suffice it to say recent increases do not bridge the eight-year necessity gap that lean years created. In addition, new statewide requirements earmarked for specific purposes have absorbed some of the increases. Meanwhile curriculum and textbook updates alone in District 411 may exceed $1 million. The average age of computers and related devices district-wide is six to eight years. The cost of hardware and software upgrades to stay current could also easily run into millions.
We owe it to our children and to ourselves to fund our K-12 educational system in keeping with 21st century standards and expectations. It will give our kids better prospects for the future. It will make our community more attractive when recruiting new businesses. It will help our own children become the well-trained, home-grown workforce for those new modern jobs, decreasing the need to move away to explore better prospects.
I urge you. No, actually I implore you to be more motivated than you have ever been before to get to the polls and vote for this supplemental levy. You can early-vote today through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the County Office Complex on West Addison Avenue. On Tuesday, March 14, the polls will open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling places can be located online at http://idahovotes.gov/ or www.twinfallscounty.org. Or, you can call the County Clerk’s office at 208-736-4004.
Vote. Just do it.
A person’s comment: “That’s her there! Her hubby’s inside!” “How can she stand by him?” a neighbor cried! “I’d throw away the lock and key!” “That husband of hers should never be free!” “That woman can do so much better than him!” “I’d throw all his letters away in the bin!” “Just what can he offer now that he’s locked away?” “A complete waste of space!” she shouted that day. “That’s the one there! Her boyfriend’s inside!” “He’s scum of the earth!” a neighbor implied! “If I were her, well I’d meet someone else!” “Not wasting my life to be left on the shelf!” “That woman’s been left to cope with the shame.” “It was all over the papers! And gave out his name.” “He’s useless! A criminal! Bring back the rope!” “He’ll do it again! For him there’s no hope!” My comment: That man you condemn has a child and a wife. A mom and a dad who have given him life! What would you do if this happened to yours? Deny all your love and close all the doors? Do you honestly think I’d sink to a level And just turn my back and deem him a devil? Yes! He’s done wrong and is serving his time And no, I do not agree with his crime. “That woman” you point at, yes it is me. I was born with a name, as I’m human you see! I’m innocent, just in case you forgot And love him whether you like it or not! I’ve had the abuse, the comments and more. It’s nothing I haven’t heard all before. I mean no offense when I say this to you I’m a victim as well, a forgotten one too.
Idaho’s economy is on an incredible path in the right direction. Idaho leads the nation in job creation. Idaho is one of the top three states for income growth. Idaho remains the best place to start a small business.
With all of that … there is still work to be done. Not every community is enjoying the benefits of our positive economic successes and we must get those communities moving forward. We must ensure that no part of Idaho is left behind.
A fundamental truth of the free market system is that industries become more efficient, generally through technology and mechanization.
Critical to achieving future economic success is the pursuit of excellence in education. In order for Idahoans and Americans to compete and live the American Dream, it is necessary for them to have the best education possible.
Across Idaho, new industries are popping up. North Idaho has a growing aerospace industry that supplies parts to big airplane manufacturers like Boeing. We have many incredible ammunition and gun parts companies, with Lewiston becoming the hub for this advanced manufacturing. In the Treasure Valley there is an ever-growing technology sector that has chosen our state because of the quality of life. The Magic Valley is adding value to Idaho’s agriculture commodities through its growing food processing sector. Eastern Idaho has the Idaho National Laboratory, a premier nuclear research facility that is also expanding its cybersecurity research. We have incredible opportunities and we need the talent to feed these expanding sectors. This is a great problem to have.
We need to find the talented workforce now, and we need to cultivate it for the future. In order to continue to increase opportunities like this across Idaho, we have to make investments in our K-12 education system, making it truly a K-through-career system.
We need high school graduates who are prepared to work hard and thrive in college and others who are career ready and want to learn a skill that prepares them to do the jobs of the future. We need engineers and we need diesel mechanics.
That is why the steady progress we are making on the public education’s task force 20 recommendations is so critical. Last year we emphasized reading proficiency for students from kindergarten through third grade. As the old saying goes, you learn to read by the third grade, and after that, you read to learn. We also made the biggest increase in career-technical education, building on existing dual credit and apprenticeship programs.
This year, in a continued effort to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers, we are increasing teacher pay and ensuring that the most qualified teachers are getting paid appropriately. Bottom line—great teachers, develop great students.
All of these efforts at the state level on public education do not discount local leadership and parental control. It is perhaps the most important thing. Student success starts at home and in hometowns.
When I travel Idaho and visit with businesses, they tell me what workforce needs they require to thrive and expand, I tell them that their participation means being engaged on their local school boards. Help educators develop curriculums that foster in-demand skillsets and create pipelines for future skilled Idahoans.
What I learned in high school doesn’t keep up with what students need to know today. This best possible education is ever changing, and we all know adapting to change is hard.
In order for good jobs and opportunities to replace the work of the past, we need two things. We need entrepreneurs to dream of great ideas and take a financial risk to make that dream a reality. We also need the men and women to skillfully build or create that product or idea, and improve upon it.