Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff have clashed hard on education issues so far during today’s City Club of Idaho Falls debate. Among the highlights:
On supplemental levies:
Balukoff noted that then-Gov. Jim Risch in 2006 lowered property taxes and raised the sales tax a penny. “Ninety-five districts have been forced to pass supplemental levies,” he said, “so now we have both the 1 penny sales tax increase and the property tax back.” That, he said, has “created greater disparity among our districts than we’ve ever seen. … So we are not maintaining and honoring that constitutional mandate.”
Otter noted that property values fell during the recession. “Local folks in all these districts that he talked about, they were the ones that went down and voted and said yes we want to do this, yes we want to support our local school district. So it wasn’t us at the state that said you have to do this,” he said.
Balukoff responded, “Their choices were stark: Larger class sizes, let teachers go, or tax themselves.”
On kindergarten readiness and early learning:
Otter: “I think we need to focus on K-12. … If you take a look at adding 20, 30 40,000 more people to a system that’s already under-funded, you’re not being fiscally responsible.”
Balukoff: “A preschool option for every parent in this state would be the most effective thing we could do in the short term to raise student achievement statewide.”
On higher ed funding:
Balukoff: “If we’re going to call our universities state-supported universities, they need to be supported at more than 20 to 25 percent. … The bulk of the support for higher education comes in the form of student tuition and fees, which is sort of like a hidden tax on the people that can least afford to pay it.”
Otter: “Idaho still has a pretty good bang for its buck in higher education.” He also noted that he established the Opportunity Scholarship Fund and expanded the Governor’s Cup, which raises money for college scholarships for Idaho students.