Voters in nearly every Idaho school district went to the polls this week to pass bonds or renew or set supplemental levies. In the simplest terms, levies amount to additional taxes that support education.
In Boise, lawmakers love this system. Rather than fund education in any reasonable way, state legislators prefer that local voters decide how much money their schools will get. The concept is called local control – allowing local voters to decide the fates of their local schools.
After most of the levies passed this week, state lawmakers took it as evidence the system was working because so many of the levies were successful. (Never mind that Idaho still devotes less money to public education than almost every other state.) Another lawmaker went further, blasting the media for its criticism of the school funding structure, which many newspapers in Idaho have called unfair because districts in affluent communities can afford nicer schools and better teachers and districts in poorer communities can’t.
So what’s really going on here?
One, the media isn’t against local control. It simply wants the state to fund districts more robustly. If some districts still want to ask voters for a little extra in the form of levies, so be it. But districts shouldn’t have to count on a levy every year just to make sure it can make payroll next month.
Two, if local control is so great, why is education one of the only policy areas where lawmakers allow it to exist?
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Why aren’t we letting local voters make local decisions about minimum wages? Or whether to ban plastic bags, an issue that got surprisingly heated last session? Or, as we’ve advocated for time and again, local control over our own sales taxes?
The truth is, legislators don’t really trust us to make these decisions. In their minds, they know better than locals on almost every issue but education. But even that’s a scapegoat. Legislators want local votes on education funding because the system allows them to keep state-level funding to a minimum.
Legislators are speaking out of both sides of their mouths: Local control on education is great, but let’s not allow local control anywhere else.
It’s a tiring argument that’s leaving Idaho ranked near the bottom in nearly every measure of state education funding. And it’s keeping local communities from making the kinds of decisions that might improve our cities and grow our economies.
So which is it, legislators?
Should cities, counties and schools have local control or not? And if the answer is yes, why aren’t you doing anything to expand it?