Our View: School budget puts Idaho on right path

March 5, 2014 

During a Legislature that at times has resembled a scavenger hunt for laws that solve imaginary problems and that pad political resumes for upcoming elections, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has so far done its work well, and delivered an education funding package truly in the people’s long-term interest.

Whereas the Senate Affairs and Agriculture committees allowed themselves to be overly influenced by the NRA and agricultural lobbies, respectively, JFAC has lived up to delivering on what we were all told was the “No. 1 priority” for this session and this time in Idaho’s history: education reform and the funding to make it happen.

Free from the pressures of an election, we like the way Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna framed in a release his assessment of the JFAC budget announced Monday: “The budget improves the way we compensate Idaho’s teachers, provides more advanced opportunities for high school students, takes critical steps to restore discretionary funding to local school districts, strongly emphasizes classroom technology ... With this budget, we are taking the necessary steps toward implementing the Task Force for Improving Education recommendations and making sure every student graduates from high school prepared for college or the workforce.”

The $1.38 billion budget for Idaho schools in fiscal year 2015 is a 5.1 ($66.2 million) percent increase over the previous year’s and much more generous than the 2.9 percent Gov. Butch Otter had requested. When Otter first announced his education request, we were concerned whether it sent the right message, and we are pleased JFAC has gone one better with its number.

Idaho and JFAC still have plenty of work to do before the education reforms we need can be set into motion, but taking the Idaho education system to a new and better level is going to take equal commitments from teachers — whom we are happy to report under JFAC’s plans will receive raises and career ladder assurances — and parents, who must invest more of their time and support in encouraging and monitoring their children’s academic preparations.

The financial commitment is precisely a “down payment” on Idaho’s future and will require many more installments to restore and maintain success in the future. But where money sometimes fails — or dries up at times — parents can always produce even higher dividends of success by volunteering at schools and getting engaged in the process as the Idaho Core Standards are implemented.

As Jeanne Allen put it Tuesday during an address to educators while speaking before an Albertson Foundation Ed Session in Boise, there is no substitute for “parent power” in education reform. The founder of The Center for Education Reform and president through 2013, Allen advised educators that they shouldn’t concern themselves with adopting ideas from other states and districts. They should be concerned only about the failure to follow through on them.

Idaho has a good funding start, a set of Task Force recommendations and a path forward. It now must stay the course.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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