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Inside Politics: Loan-forgiveness bill will keep good teachers in our schools

The size of America’s student loan debt is staggering: $1.4 trillion. That’s “trillion” with a “T.” It’s more than $600 billion more than the country’s total credit card debt. Nationwide, on average, students who graduated from college in 2016 have just over $37,000 in student loan debt. The numbers for Idaho are a little better. According to an article in USA Today this past April, 71 percent of 2015 graduates had student loan debt. The average debt was just under $28,000 per student.

As an Idaho state legislator, there’s not much I can do about the $1.4 trillion. We’ll have to leave that to Congress for now. However, it is my intention to try and put a dent in that $28,000 when it comes to teachers who stay and teach in Idaho’s rural school districts.

During the 2017 Legislative session, Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, and I introduced a student loan forgiveness bill designed to attract and retain teachers in Idaho’s rural schools. I was pleased at the time to see the bill attracted statewide coverage. Apparently, a lot of people recognized the need to recruit good teachers to our rural schools. While the bill passed the Ways and Means Committee late in the session, it never got to a floor vote. I’m hoping to change that next year. I plan to introduce the bill again during the 2018 session. Under the legislation, teachers in eligible rural districts could receive up to $12,000 in student loan forgiveness over four years. That’s about one-third of the total debt for an average college graduate and nearly half the average debt load for Idaho graduates. That seems like a good incentive to me. And one that is sorely needed.

Rural school districts make up about 75 percent of all of Idaho’s districts. In 2017, 37 percent of those districts started the school year with unfilled classroom positions. As the Times-News noted in an article last weekend, other schools are filling positions with unlicensed teachers. The article went on to report that although the number of certified teachers graduating from Idaho’s universities has held steady over the last few years, many of them are heading to Boise and the Treasure Valley. This, of course, is a statewide trend. Between 1990 and 2011, the rural population in Idaho dropped from 41 percent to 31 percent of the total population. As a result, rural schools face special challenges in this regard, which is why we need to incentivize teachers to apply and stay in rural districts.

The governor’s Higher Education Task Force just approved its recommendations last week. The group’s proposals are intended to be part of a larger plan to push Idaho’s “go-on” rate (high school students who “go on” to a post-secondary education or program) to 60 percent by 2025. Making college affordable was definitely part of the task force’s agenda. One proposal, championed by Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, centered around improving the state’s dual credit program which allows high school students to take college-level courses and receive credit at Idaho universities. Another proposal by Rep. Ilana Rubel calls for the institution of a “co-op” program. Under the proposal, Idaho universities would partner with businesses to provide students with a mix of classroom instruction and actual employment at a partnering business. Under the program, students could earn money while in school to pay down student loan debt. I support both proposals. However, the task force focused primarily on statewide solutions. As noted above, rural school districts have their own set of challenges when it comes to attracting and retaining qualified teachers. Giving those educators a chance to erase a big chunk of their student loan debt for working in rural school districts is a more targeted incentive that could compliment the task force’s proposals.

As my District 26 constituents know, the local schools are mainstays of our small communities. I know this first hand, because before I became a state legislator, I was a lifetime educator. In addition to being the place where our children learn, our rural schools offer a place to gather for sporting events, school plays, town meetings and even political gatherings. The bedrock of any school district are the teachers who come to work every day to educate our kids. Without qualified teachers, a school is just a building. Recruiting and retaining those teachers in our rural schools is essential not just for our kids’ education, but for our community’s strength. I don’t have a trillion-dollar solution for our nation’s student loan debt problem — although I’m open to suggestions. However, in Idaho, $12,000 over four years can go a long way toward strengthening our schools, our communities and our families.

Letter: Farm Board supports ag research center

The Jerome County Farm Bureau board of directors pledges our full support for the University of Idaho Center for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment Research Facility, which the University of Idaho is considering locating in Jerome County. This facility will be a hallmark of innovation and research and will bring significant value to many segments of the agricultural industry, which is the backbone of our county’s — and our state’s — economy. It will provide hands-on learning for future agriculturalists and deserves our full support as the project moves ahead. It will be a huge benefit to Jerome County residents.

Carl Montgomery, president 

Jerome County Farm Bureau board of directors

Other View: Bad ideas never die

This appeared in Wednesday’s Washington Post.

Over the next week and a half, Republican senators may try one last time to repeal and replace Obamacare. The latest bill, from Sens. Bill Cassidy, La., Lindsey Graham, S.C., Dean Heller, Nev., and Ron Johnson, Wis., is about as execrable as the others that GOP lawmakers previously failed to approve. The process by which Republicans would pass it would be as sloppy and partisan as the one to which senators such as John McCain, R-Ariz., objected earlier in the summer. The outcome would be no less destructive.

The big difference now is the clock; the procedural window for passing a health-care bill along straight party lines will disappear at the end of the month, spurring Republicans to try one last time. That is a sad excuse to rush through—without even an attempt at bipartisanship and without a complete Congressional Budget Office assessment—a half-baked bill that would harm millions. Senators who objected to repeal-and-replace efforts before have no principled reason to change their votes.

The Graham-Cassidy proposal would cancel Obamacare’s major programs in 2020 and offer the states block grants instead. This plan at least does not include a massive upper-income tax cut, as previous GOP bills did, and it would seem to allow blue states to create and maintain universal or near-universal health coverage systems within their borders, even as red states went in a more conservative direction.

But the bill suffers from fatal flaws, even setting aside how red-state residents would suffer under the parsimonious health policies their governments would adopt. First, analysts project that it would scale back the money states would get over time, relative to what would have flowed their way under Obamacare. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a center-left think tank, estimates the shortfall would total $41 billion by 2026. The bill’s funding formula would, in general, shift money from blue states to red states. These factors would make it difficult for states that like their Obamacare to keep their Obamacare.

Second, the bill would seriously cut Medicaid, which covers the poor and near-poor, putting yet more burden on states to cover needy people—if states even try.

Third, the state block grants that would underpin the Graham-Cassidy system would end in 2027; that would breed uncertainty in the market, fear among patients and rancor on Capitol Hill.

Moreover, the bill would make it easier for states to erode important safeguards guaranteeing that sick people can obtain the care they need. And that is the rosy scenario. There is a good chance that many states would fail to create brand-new health-care systems by 2020, in time to stave off the chaos that would occur after Obamacare’s carefully regulated and subsidized health-care markets disappeared. Establishing such a system is hard under any circumstances. Doing so under a tight deadline, without the administrative, technical and other help that federal officials currently provide, would be very hard, the Urban Institute’s Linda Blumberg pointed out. Some Republicans want to pass this policy disaster before the end of the month, in less than two weeks. A last-minute committee hearing would be nothing more than a fig leaf disguising a reprehensibly partisan process in service of an unworthy bill.