Idaho voters support more school funding. But how should it be spent?
Starting in January, a brand new legislature will have to grapple with how to spend $410 million more on public education.
That money comes after September’s special legislative session that saw lawmakers cut taxes, offer residents a new round of rebate checks and significantly boost education funding.
The advisory question put to voters last Tuesday asked whether they supported that legislation, earning an eye-popping 80% approval rating.
“We’ve seen that in virtually every public opinion survey. Education is almost always number one in the state,” said Rod Gramer, executive director of Idaho Business for Education.
Gramer called it a “resounding endorsement” of education in the state, despite acknowledging that voters who simply supported the tax cuts could’ve signed off on the question.
Idaho ranks only ahead of Utah in terms of the amount of money spent per pupil in the country, according to the federal government.
“It is a significant investment in education in the state of Idaho,” said Gramer. “My only hope is that lawmakers won’t see it as the only investment we need to make in education.”
Early childhood education and paying off a severe backlog in public school maintenance should be considered by lawmakers, he said, instead of programs like school vouchers.
A popular idea among some more conservative politicians, vouchers or education savings accounts would allow parents to direct the money tied to their child that would typically go to their local school district toward private school tuition, tutoring or other expenses.
“We strongly believe that the money belongs to the student. It does not belong to any system, it does not belong to any school building,” said Chris Cargill, president of the conservative think tank, the Mountain States Policy Center.
Education savings accounts, especially for special needs students, Cargill said, should be strongly considered by state lawmakers this coming session.
He said he understands there are constitutional concerns to consider, as Idaho’s founding document requires the government to “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools,” but that those issues could be worked through.
The results of Tuesday’s election shouldn’t be narrowly interpreted, Cargill said.
“You may be supportive of putting more money into K-12 because you want access to an education savings account.”
Lawmakers will begin divvying up those new education dollars come January.
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