As Idahoans, we value our children, as should our elected leaders. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a politician who admits otherwise, but actions are more telling than words. Three decades of disinvestment by Republican lawmakers have led to unsafe school facilities and diminished opportunities in the worst-funded schools in our nation. Idaho’s kids deserve better.
A recent investigation by the Idaho Statesman and ProPublica shines a light on the dire straits of our schools. At Valley View Elementary in Boundary County, freezing classrooms, collapsing roofs, hazardous playgrounds, and insufficient bathrooms are just some of the conditions students endure. And the risks of run-down infrastructure are high: faulty electrical equipment caused last week’s fire gutting the entire wing of a Pocatello high school. Thankfully, no one was hurt, this time. Research shows $1.3 billion in unmet facility needs across Idaho — a legacy of neglect by the Republican supermajority.
With state funding falling short, school leaders are forced to ask their local communities to fill the gap through supplemental levies and bonds. Rather than helping schools meet their severe needs, Republican legislators keep throwing up roadblocks.
By capping the homeowner’s exemption and causing an ever-growing property tax shift onto residents and away from commercial interests, the Legislature made it harder for struggling Idahoans to add school funding to their inflated tax bills, even when they see a strong need. With a two-thirds threshold required to pass bonds — higher than almost every other state — questions about community investment are being controlled by a minority of voters. This year, Republican lawmakers eliminated the March election date districts rely on for their elections, meaning they now have fewer opportunities to simply ask their voters to consider bonds and levies.
The growing reliance on locally-passed funding measures has created a patchwork of haves and have-nots. Well-off districts with a strong tax base are able to provide better facilities, more career technical education, and special classes, while districts with fewer resources have fewer offerings. And failed levies can spell crisis.
In a few weeks, Coeur d’Alene voters will decide the fate of a two-year, $25 million supplemental levy. If it doesn’t pass, the district will have to declare a fiscal emergency. Over a quarter of district employees will be laid off, two elementary schools will close, and extracurricular activities, including school sports, will cease.
By failing to adequately fund our schools and making it harder for communities to fill the gap, Republican lawmakers are in dereliction of their school funding duty enshrined in the Idaho State Constitution.
Idaho Democrats are steadfast in our commitment to preparing the next generation. Our children are our future. With the proper investment, that future will be bright.
Lauren Necochea, Idaho Democratic Party Chair