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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Idaho Children Are Primary: Legislators, put Idaho’s children first

The future of Idaho’s children depends on the decisions our legislators are making today.

Lawmakers are making decisions on what to do with a budget surplus after a year of strong revenues and federal pandemic relief. We believe the Idaho Legislature’s primary focus should be investments in the health, education and well-being of our children.

It has been an especially difficult year for our kids, with potential learning loss, isolation and instability, and mental health issues. Putting resources into their future could be the best investment we make this legislative session. We care about our children and families, so let us invest this surplus now when it matters most.

How much does the surplus amount to and where did it come from? Tax revenue this year is exceeding forecasts by 14 percent, and strong retail sales from when Idahoans received federal income supports boosted spending. The governor also requested holdbacks in 2020 that resulted in cuts of $98.7 million to education; there were $96.5 million of holdbacks for other public services; and federal Medicaid relief resulted in an $89 million Medicaid budget surplus. The revenue, holdbacks and pandemic relief dollars represent uncommitted funds that could be used to invest in education, health care, infrastructure and other areas that support long-term economic growth.

Doesn’t the wise investment point to the education and health of our kids? No matter your party affiliation, ideology or background, we all agree that we should work toward a better life for the next generation. Our focus on children today will show in their level of achievement and their ability to weather difficult situations for decades to come.

Taking care of our kids in the present means better economic growth, more stable communities and the ability of Idaho businesses to be competitive in the future. It is more than an investment in human capital. We call it “the right thing to do.”

Idaho lawmakers’ decisions represent our community priorities and values, and these decisions are spelled out clearly in the state’s policies and budgets. Using the surplus to put funds back into education to compensate for learning loss is the right thing to do. Getting and keeping highly qualified educators, nurses and counselors is the right thing to do. Allowing parents to choose to enroll 4-year-olds in public prekindergarten programs to help them be ready on day one of school is the right thing to do. Ensuring children and their families have access to health care through full Medicaid funding is the right thing to do.

These issues are what drive true change and move the dial on things such as literacy rates, childhood obesity, high school graduation, college attendance and even prison recidivism. We need the Legislature to invest a significant portion of the state’s surplus in the future – our kids - because it is the right thing to do.

Submitted by the Advisory Board of Idaho Children Are Primary (

Staci Darmody, Master’s in Theological Studies, Boise

Patricia Kempthorne, chair of Parents as Teachers, former Idaho first lady

Alicia Lachiondo, pediatrician, M.D, spokesperson for Get Immunized Idaho, Boise

Cristina Leon, pediatric cardiologist D.O., Pocatello

John Rusche, Former Idaho legislator, retired pediatrician M.D., Lewiston

Chris Streeter, Children’s Center for Neurobehavioral Medicine M.D., Boise

Jaron Wagoner, former Idaho legislator, serves on the Caldwell City Council, consultant

Cindy Wilson, nationally recognized educator, Meridian

About Idaho Children are Primary:

To help bring children’s issues to the forefront, we have formed Idaho Children Are Primary (ICAP), which will oversee a bill evaluation system called the Kids Matter Index. ICAP represents a diverse group of Republicans and Democrats, policy makers, business leaders, educators, physicians and other child experts. Despite our different backgrounds and agendas, we all have the same goal in mind when it comes to policy and legislation: bringing the welfare of Idaho children to the forefront of policy decisions.

Our mission is to highlight children’s issues when they come up. Starting last month, for every bill pertaining to children before the Idaho Legislature, we are asking the question: Is this good for Idaho’s kids?

We will help voters and legislators alike make informed decisions by providing evidence-based data on each bill whenever possible. At the end of session, we will publish the voting history of each legislator based on the Kids Matter Index. Our intention is not to point fingers, but to highlight opportunity. In fact, when we scored 10 child-related bills from this past session, nearly half of legislators voted decidedly pro-child, in agreement with ICAP’s position an average of 90 percent of the time.

Yes, we CAN reduce high school dropout rates, decrease teen suicide, increase kindergarten readiness and improve children’s health, but to do all these things, we need to fully fund education and health care for our kids and families.

Lawmakers’ action – or inaction – determines whether Idaho children are growing up healthy, staying safe and walking into classrooms prepared to learn.

This is what we all want for our kid: a strong economy, communities filled with opportunities, and an environment in which all kids can reach their potential.

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