It will take a lot more than higher teachers’ salaries and revised standards to cure the disease that infects Idaho’s public schools.

The state’s educational funding mechanism is broken and must be fixed and fixed now.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Educational Task Force last week overwhelmingly endorsed a slew of new, federally backed standards. The proposal would boost minimum salaries for new teachers from $31,000 annually to $40,000.

The bolstered salary steps, contained within the six-year, $254 million Common Core program, could prove instrumental in retaining talent.

Teachers are the boots on the educational ground, and Idaho can’t continue to bleed young instructors because of low wages.

But we must again point to the all important number here: $254 million.

The additional cost, though spread across six years, again raises questions about the state’s failed experiment with funding its public schools.

Then-Gov. Jim Risch triumphed in 2006 when he and the Legislature gutted how Idaho’s schools had been traditionally funded.

The law ended the use of property taxes to fund operational and maintenance costs of the state’s 115 public schools. It instead hiked sales tax by 1 percent, which, at the time, closed most of the gap created by the lost property tax revenue.

“No longer will Idahoans fund public schools by turning to the property tax,” Risch proclaimed after signing the bill. “That’s a good thing.”

Conservatives have for years considered property taxes fundamentally unfair because only those who own land pay for services everyone enjoys. A sales tax increase, the argument follows, spreads the funding burden across all consumers.

But in 2008, the economy tanked. People stopped spending. People stopped buying. Sales tax revenues plummeted.

Public schools — funded at $1.3 billion in the 2013-14 fiscal year — remains by far the largest chunk of Idaho’s current $2.8 billion state budget.

Yet education funding is falling behind compared with that of other state agencies, says a recent study by the Boise-based Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

Funding for non-educational state agencies grew on average 4.9 percent a year between 2000 and 2012. Educational funding grew by 3.3 percent, the budget analysis concludes.

Idaho’s per-student spending remains among the lowest in the nation. That number, roughly $8,800, has continued to fall, since 2008’s Great Recession.

Research publication Education Week ranked Idaho’s public educational system 48th among the states, based on sub-par educational achievement.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the 2006 experiment, while politically popular, has failed.

Many states fund their schools almost entirely on local property taxes. This model also hasn’t worked. Schools in wealthy towns benefit from a robust tax base while poor communities struggle.

It’s time to rethink how Idaho funds it’s school systems.

Perhaps allowing each district to fund up to one-third of its operational costs through local property taxes could close the growing gap.

The local voters, in this scenario, would have the final say and could either scuttle or approve the local school board’s request for cash.

This hybrid system would keep the majority of the state’s school funding squarely on the backs of everyone.

It also would cede a measure of local control back to the individual communities.

If the voters of one district want more cash for music or literature programs, they could raise it.

A Boise-knows-best approach isn’t working. Idaho’s schools are slowly suffocating. Something has to change.

A true republic must rely, in some regard, on home rule.

And freeing local districts to pursue funding for core programs from the local populace would return power to where it belongs — with the people.

(9) comments


Maybe you folks haven't heard of supplemental tax levies. The property taxes for schools were eliminated and replaced by a raise in sales taxes. This effectively removed large business and wealthy home and land owners from funding the schools. These monies were then replaced by a 1 cent sales tax increase which placed a disproportional tax increase on the lower income earners. Simply put, it was a tax shift from the rich to the working class. Next, the increased sales tax money was placed in the general fund and spent on everything except school funding. The schools suffered tremendously. Now, in order to maintain any kind of education, all school districts in Idaho have to pass supplemental operating levies. These are property tax increases which hit the working class, again, disproportionally because of Idaho's property tax laws effecting large business. Now you want to raise tax of the working class for a third time by more property taxes. In the past several years, the upper class and businesses of all varieties have enjoyed a tax decrease of some kind every year, thanks to the Republican run government. Idaho does need a total tax overhaul just to right the wrongs done by tax shifts from the wealthy to the working class over the pass several years. Just to shift more tax burden onto the working class, through property taxes, is not the answer.


The wealthy will always be favored by Republican politicians everywhere. That's just the way they do things. The majority of our state's population must like it that way though, because they keep voting them in, year after year.


dont you dare blame any democrat,,blame wealthy.that create jobs and the repubs, now go to obama he said he wants to raise taxes on the rich, he did ,did it help the poor any???????


The same old un American, anti capitalist liberal notion of penalizing wealth and success by making landowner's fund our education system simply because they can is being revisited; blocks and blocks and endless blocks of houses in incorporated towns open their doors, children flood out of them, and they fill our schools... while their parents enjoy a home owners exemption on each and every home. The fix is very simple, and completely fair: you use it, you pay for it... eliminate the home owners exemption in every single incorporated town in the State of Idaho.


Lets eliminate the tax exemption for religious organizations while we'er at it. I'm sure they could see the benefit of their profits going to the education of children in their areas. They sure affect the rest of us with their "morals" via big government. Why not try to give back to what they claim is our most valuable resource... our kids?


the churches have schools that they pay for without help from you jim bobare you still on PBS? boy all your hate goes to religion, here is a stupid remark from me,lets tax all atheist a higher tax,the have no church to give it to........


Ok Cary, you've proven your "conservative patriot" stripes by talking about how unfair it is for everyone to pay for schools. Hey, "patriot," how do you feel about paying for roads? I think churches, with full tax exempt status, should no longer be allowed to use roads. Does that make me a "patriot" too?


Hey, that's pretty good, just called me unAmerican. Well done. You must be the president of the Hyperbole Club. Is a property tax the answer? Maybe not. But the state certainly isn't funding school properly when there are grade schools holding fundraisers to buy desks.


Where are all of you when it's time to vote? I know there are Idahoans out there who actually care about the pathetic state of our schools. There has never been an administration like Otter's in the history of this State. He and his cronies, Tom Luna included, have systematically de-funded education and the lackey legislators, who do whatever they're told, vote accordingly, ignoring the voice of the people. Why, then, are these people re-elected? Why, after enacting the "Luna laws," were people like Hartgen able to skate back into terms out of which they should have been kicked---and hard? Please keep your voices loud and strong and join me in hoping and working for a seismic shift in Idaho's politics before our schools---and our kids---crumble into destruction.

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