Guest Opinions

Why the big tax cut now, when Idaho children need so much help?

Idaho State Capitol.
Idaho State Capitol.

Have you ever wondered where the phrase “If you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you” comes from? It refers to a scam, selling someone the Brooklyn Bridge. At this very moment Idaho, or at least some Idaho politicians, are selling something far larger than the Brooklyn Bridge. They are selling the concept that education is a high legislative priority and we can achieve quality education and significantly reduce the flow of tax money into the state general account.

If education is a priority, then why does Idaho’s per-pupil expenditure consistently remain at or near the bottom, below all but one or two other states? This bottom-feeder placeholder has continued for decades, even through good economic times. Now that we are in “good economic times,” why is Idaho not seriously considering moving up from the bottom rung on the ladder?

Surprise, surprise, economic times are good and Idaho is again in the process of attempting a large tax cut. It seems that our decision-makers don’t understand that our economy has ups and downs and that tax reductions during good times can be disastrous during hard times.

This latest effort could be as damaging as the 2006 property tax shift that was rushed through during a special summer session. That funding shift created even greater funding disparities between rich and poor districts. It also contributed to the huge increase in not only the number of supplemental levies but the amount of property tax money required for districts to survive.

Do you think even one of Idaho’s local school trustees would support a supplemental levy if they didn’t feel it was absolutely necessary?

Where are the legislators, whose constitutional duty is to fund a uniform and thorough system of free common schools? We hear about how much the education appropriation has grown, but in fact we still occupy the bottom rung of most national rankings. Consider the fact that we have many more students enrolled in the 115 traditional Idaho school districts and now they have been joined by an additional 52 charter schools. This fact alone has cut the economic pie into even smaller pieces.

As longtime advocates for children and schools, our level of frustration goes well beyond the appropriation. Idaho’s teacher turnover rate of 20 percent is simply unacceptable, as is the low number of qualified applicants seeking positions in Idaho and the large number of people teaching without proper certification. We all know the importance of quality teachers.

Another example of Idaho’s failure is the lack of support for early-childhood programs. The lack of early success can contribute to the creation of a high school dropout long before it actually happens. As you know, society doesn’t easily absorb dropouts.

In conclusion, we ask you to not buy the bridge.

Jim Cobble is superintendent of Camas County School District. Jerry Evans is a retired Idaho superintendent of public instruction.