Idaho faces an education crisis that must be addressed before it’s too late. Governor Little seems to acknowledge this, repeatedly speaking about improving Idaho’s educational outcomes so that our kids will either stay in Idaho or come back after college. His opening remarks to the new K-12 Task Force this week, dubbed “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future,” was no different. While a lot of discussion about Idaho’s educational system revolves around funding and statistics, the core of the crisis is more familiar – and familial. We can’t give our kids a fair shot at success without giving them the tools to succeed in the first place.

If the term “K-12 Task Force” rings a bell, it’s because we had one back in 2013. That Task Force came up with 20 recommendations for improving our educational system – everything from increasing teacher pay to improving technology in our schools. Most of those goals are still in various stages of development. The new Task Force is supposed to build off of those recommendations with two main objectives: improve literacy and strengthen our students’ college and career readiness. The first part is critical. When children struggle academically early on, the ripple effects can last a lifetime. Students who cannot read at grade level by the third grade face a perilous academic journey. Studies show those students are more likely to drop out of school which limits their ability to earn a decent wage, gain access to healthcare, or support a family.

According to the latest report from Idaho’s Department of Education, only about half of Idaho’s K-3 students read at grade level. Career readiness is just as crucial if we want to keep our kids here in Idaho and maintain strong families.

This year the STEM Action Center issued a report to the legislature which showed more than 6,300 STEM-related jobs went unfilled last year. That resulted in an estimated $412,000,000 in unpaid wages which should have gone into the pockets of Idahoans. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math jobs pay roughly double what non-STEM jobs do. Those are family-supporting wages that are being left on the table. Many of those jobs can be filled with career-technical training, professional certificates or two-year degrees. Idaho’s “go-on” rate (kids who go on to higher education or professional training after high school) is among the lowest in the nation at 42-percent.

The jobs are here but Idahoans don’t have the education or training to get the job. How do we expect to keep our kids in Idaho if they can’t get a good-paying job after graduation?

Lofty goals – improving literacy in the early grades and making sure our kids are ready for the workforce when they graduate. The challenge for the Task Force is how to accomplish those goals. Will the committee recommend increased investment in Idaho’s K-12 system?

After all, tools cost money. Task Force members are supposed to provide budget estimates with their recommendations. At a minimum, let them recommend that the legislature stop lowering the top income tax rate. It was 8.2% twenty years ago, and has dropped from 7.4% to 6.95% since 2015.

Or will they take the easy way out, and simply rearrange money already allocated?

What, if anything, will be done to address education before kindergarten? I assume by virtue of the Task Force’s name that it will not be addressed. This is a missed opportunity to be sure, and one that will continue to have negative effects on our children’s future.

Idahoans value security for their families.

A big component of security is tied to opportunities for our children. Giving them the tools to succeed early on is crucial to their future success.

When we think of education in terms of family, as opposed to numbers and rankings, it’s easier to understand the personal stake we all have in improving our K-12 system. Strong schools strengthen Idaho families which benefits everyone.

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