As kids head back to school, families like mine feel the promise of the year ahead — a promise that depends on our dedicated teachers. Currently, teachers are putting in extra hours and digging into their own pockets to ready their classrooms and, too often, facing a heavier workload and less pay than the Legislature promised. Sadly, they are also bracing for harassment from far-right agitators.
It’s therefore not surprising we see growing teacher turnover and schools with hundreds of vacancies. We must better support teachers to deliver the education we want for our children and the working conditions teachers deserve.
Two recent news stories illustrate what we are up against. The first was an article in the Boston Globe about 2023 Idaho Teacher of the Year Karen Lauritzen who left our state. The second was a KMVT piece about unfilled teaching vacancies in the Twin Falls District less than a week before the start of school. Many districts face the same challenge and larger class sizes are the most likely fix when vacancies go unfilled.
Karen Lauritzen was nationally recognized for excellent instruction and her passion for student learning. Receiving this prestigious award should have been cause for celebration in her community. Unfortunately, the opposite occurred. Far-right conflict profiteers picked her part online, criticizing her personal social media posts expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community and opposition to excessive police violence against Black people. Despite having zero evidence that her personal views had any bearing on classroom instruction, parents started questioning her every move, even discussions of topics like world cultures and the United Nations.
The harassment took its toll. Ultimately, Ms. Lauritzen — like thousands of other Idaho teachers — made the difficult decision not to return.
When educators exit the classroom, we pay a high price. Student achievement suffers in schools with more turnover. Attrition costs rural districts up to $9,000 per educator and $20,000 in urban districts.
Alarmingly, an Idaho Education Association survey found that 51% of Idaho educators are considering early retirement or leaving the profession. Lack of funding, salaries that fall behind the cost of living, and a worsening anti-educator climate are driving qualified teachers from the classroom.
Extreme Republican politicians have been deliberately sowing the seeds of doubt in public education for decades. They ignore the needs of students, parents, and educators and instead try to distract voters by politicizing our classrooms.
Instead of censoring books and curricula, Idaho Democrats are working to support our educators. We are advocating for the things schools need, like reasonable class sizes and professional development. If we focus on delivering excellent educational opportunities to every child, we can build a bright future for Idaho.
Idaho Democratic Party Chair