Letters to the Editor

To improve outcomes for today’s students, Idaho needs to invest in education now

Randy French
Randy French

In his Jan. 17 column, NNU professor Peter Crabb expressed skepticism that funding increases for Idaho education would improve education in Idaho, implying that such funding isn’t an effective investment in human or physical capital.

Idaho’s spending per pupil is less than two-thirds of the national average, and ranks nationally at 49th. Almost 20 percent of Idaho students do not graduate from high school, and test scores do not show the desired level of achievement for Idaho graduates.

Idaho spending on maintenance and operations was 63 percent of the national average. Students in deteriorating school buildings score from 5 to 11 percentile points lower on standardized achievement tests than students in modern buildings. The Report Card for Idaho’s Infrastructure — 2018, issued by the Southern Idaho Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, discusses Idaho infrastructure spending. Its email survey to all Idaho public school superintendents, including charter schools which received public funds, asked superintendents to assess various physical facilities of their respective school districts. A significant portion of respondents said “the overall condition of their school facilities was poor or very poor.” Upgrading school facilities alone might increase scores on standardized tests significantly.

Idaho’s spending indicates the Legislature’s willingness to invest in education’s human capital. The Hamilton Project issued a July 2018 report, “Where Work Pays: How Does Where You Live Matter for Your Earnings?” ranking states by median earnings by professions for the period 2012 through 2016. For all teachers, excluding post-secondary instructors, Idaho’s median salary ranks worst in the nation. Kindergarten and pre-K teacher salaries rank lowest in the nation, and lag 18 percent behind the national average, and almost 25 percent behind the national average adjusted for cost of living. Special-education teacher salaries rank second-lowest in the nation. Idaho’s salaries for primary lag behind the national averages by 19 percent, and secondary teachers by 10 percent.

Teacher salaries have increased 9 percent over the past three years, when the state implemented its five-year, $250 million teacher career ladder. That has not improved Idaho’s ranking and doesn’t improve compensation enough to compete effectively for the best qualified employees with other industries and other states, or to pay teachers enough to maintain a decent standard of living. The teacher career ladder must not be an excuse for Idaho’s failure to properly fund education.

Idaho’s history of underinvestment in education has led us here. Properly funding education now would provide textbooks, computers and teachers, and give future Idaho students the opportunity to compete effectively with students worldwide. It could allow Idaho schools to attract the best and the brightest college graduates to go into, and stay in, education, and increase teacher training to increase the skills that they bring to the classroom.

Our current education issues are proof that the past — underfunding education on a consistent basis for decades and cutting the education budget a decade ago — did not solve any problem. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. The solution is to invest in education and to do it now.

Randy French is a retired lawyer and an Idaho resident since 1974.