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Wednesday, February 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Lack of dollars, sense for schools

Levi B. Cavener

The National Education Association has finished compiling its annual analysis of our country’s state-by-state education spending. The results show that for all the talk of increasing education spending in Idaho, we are just barely keeping pace with inflation.

It has nothing to do with the money spent on education in comparison to the country as a whole. Rather, it’s because Idaho has fallen so far behind our regional peers that it’s akin to being handed the baton in a race for the last leg of a relay when all the other teams have already crossed the finish line.

Some numbers: Idaho’s average teaching salary is $49,225. In dollars and cents, that doesn’t sound so bad. But keep in mind that Idaho must compete with our neighboring states to attract and retain teachers, particularly in communities where crossing the state line is as simple as adding a few more minutes to the daily commute.

This is why Idaho’s average teaching salary is stuck on the track while all the other teams have crossed the finish line. The numbers for some of our neighboring states: Oregon, $63,061; Washington, $55,693; Wyoming, $58,352. In fact, Idaho’s average salary is lower than every single one of the states surrounding our borders.

It’s no wonder why it’s so hard for Idaho to attract and retain teachers. Our regional peers are lapping us. It would be comical if the consequences of our lack of competitive pay didn’t have such real-world implications.

It gets worse. According to the study, Idaho’s per-pupil spending is now last in America. The Gem State spends just $6,809 per student. Utah, which had this dubious honor last year, has now passed us. If the goal in this race is first to be last, we sure are doing a good job of it.

And it’s not that Idaho needs to spend as much as the rest of the country does on their own education expenditures. It’s that Idaho needs to at least be competitive with our regional neighbors. Nevada commits about a third more with $9,548. Montana spends almost double us with $11,540 per student. Wyoming spends $16,529. We should be embarrassed and equally ashamed.

And our young people should be angry. They should be upset that despite our state’s constitutional mandate to provide a thorough and uniform education, their educational opportunities are defined by the ZIP code they live in.

They should be furious that the sin of being born into a district that can’t pass a levy dictates not having opportunities to attend career technical training, advanced placement courses, and STEM opportunities such as coding and robotics.

And Idaho’s property owners should be equally outraged. They are being fleeced in the form of permanent “supplemental” levies used to pay for “supplemental” items like paying the electric bill. Just ask Kamiah School District. When their small $500,000 levy failed, the district had to shutter their middle school. Levies are no longer supplemental when we must close down schools if they do not pass.

The fact is, the state is failing to provide adequate dollars to our schools, and property owners are picking up the tab. Reclaim Idaho is supporting a ballot initiative to put the onus back on the state to adequately fund our public schools. Sign the petition today at ReclaimIdaho.Org

Levi B. Cavener is a social studies teacher living in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org

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