WestViews: Education talks offer chance for a fresh start

June 24, 2013 

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(Idaho Falls) Post Register

One can view all that surrounds public education in Idaho as a toxic stew, a bubbling, boiling mess from which it will be impossible to enact changes.

There is the leadership vacuum created by the political gutting of State Superintendent Tom Luna and looming statewide elections; the governor's task force examining policy and a legislative interim committee plowing the same ground. Add to that research being gathered by Boise State's Idaho Leads Project and ongoing school district-teacher negotiations and it's easy to understand why some are struggling to identify a path forward.

But this mix need not be toxic. It could be cleansing, an opportunity to set rancor behind and focus on creating a public school system that helps achieve the best results.

How we get there won't be settled today, but there are a few things we can do to prepare for the coming discussion:

Æ The political left needs to divorce itself from the idea that money cures all. We ought to begin by addressing issues that hold us back. Idaho's public schools are funded through an archaic formula that predates the Internet. We pay for kids to sit in chairs, not results. That must change.

Æ We need to make sure schools are places children and adults learn. The most lamented loss of the defunct Luna Laws was state money for teacher training. The world is changing. Rapidly. Our educators must be able to keep up.

Æ All this will require everyone at the table with open minds. Idaho's policymakers need to build a big, round table and surround it with folks willing to follow the data and settle on solutions that fall between old union doctrines and privatizing everything.

Too much of one ingredient spoils the stew. And, in this case, the more cooks in the kitchen, the better Idaho's result is bound to be.

THE MEEK SHALL NOT TAKE OVER GEM STATE

Lewiston Tribune

If ever a group ought to band together and demand a boost in the minimum wage, it is the wage slaves of Idaho.

No state has a larger share of its workers earning the minimum wage than Idaho, where the rate of people pulling down $7.25 an hour is 7.7 percent. No state has come close to Idaho's 63.2 percent growth in the number of jobs paying the minimum wage. And even though Idaho has a relatively small population, it has more minimum-wage jobs - 31,000 - than 18 other states.

So, meeting in Coeur d'Alene recently, activists kicked off an initiative campaign to replicate what Washington voters did about a decade ago - use the state law to boost the minimum wage. Washington now has the highest minimum wage at $9.19 an hour. If the Idaho plan were passed, the minimum wage would float to $9.80 an hour in four years, beginning with $8.10 an hour in 2015.

The great challenge won't be rounding up 84,000 signatures from registered voters to get the measure on the 2014 ballot - even though it's a nearly impossible task for a grass-roots campaign.

Nor will it be confronting the inevitable well-oiled special-interest campaign machinery that will siphon whatever amount of money that is necessary to buy the television spot ads to defeat it.

Facing any minimum-wage initiative is the greatest obstacle of all - the learned helplessness of the Idaho voter. Argue any issue of social or economic justice and he'll counter with a volley of pre-packaged talking points: If Idahoans voted for what was in their own best economic interests, it would be a slam dunk. But given how rarely they have done so in the past, you shouldn't bet on it.

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