Treasure Valley sees value in education, but tepid on raising taxes for it

Treasure Valley residents are bullish on public education. Nearly a quarter of respondents to a new Boise State poll said education was the most important issue facing the state — that’s the highest response out of 15 categories that includes the economy, low wages and gun laws. When Boise State did similar surveys in previous years, education always ranked high.

Paying for schools: When it comes to paying more taxes for schools, Treasure Valley residents are more ambivalent. Fewer than half (49 percent ) agreed somewhat or strongly that their school district should raise taxes for education. And 44.2 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed that taxes should go up for better school funding. When respondents were asked about raising taxes in the context of Idaho having some of the lowest per-pupil spending in the country, support nudged up to 51.6 percent.

Raising taxes may be the key component in that question that people are reacting against, said Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent. If people focus more narrowly on a particular school with particular issues, he said, the results might be more favorable because they are familiar with that school.

School quality: Asked about the quality of Idaho schools, just 39.2 percent rated them good or excellent. More than half said they were fair to poor. But those numbers improved when respondents were asked about the schools in their area, with 49.7 percent saying they are good to excellent and 41.2 percent answering fair to poor. Parents have a more favorable view of public schools: Sixty percent say schools in their area are good to excellent and 46 percent say schools across Idaho are good to excellent. Such responses generally reflect people being more knowledgeable about their own schools, where they know and like the teachers, Coberly said.

Preschool support: Early childhood education drew strong support from Treasure Valley respondents, with 71 percent either strongly agreeing or somewhat agreeing that access to quality preschool is beneficial to educational performance later in life.

But when asked whether they would support spending more in taxes to boost access to early childhood education, just 51.9 percent said yes.

The state finances the vast majority of Idaho K-12 costs. But the Legislature has not backed state-supported early childhood programs in Idaho, so they do not exist.

The poll shows Treasure Valley residents understand the importance of an early childhood program, “but when it comes to who is going to pay for it, everyone steps back,” said Beth Oppenheimer, Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children executive director.

Her association has just received a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation to look at ways to build support for early childhood education.

Such instruction is preventative care, Oppenheimer said: “It’s saving tax dollars later.”