In his State of the State and budget message today, Gov. Otter spoke about the values that Idahoans hold most dear. Family, community, and hard work are all central to our lives. Idaho parents and grandparents also know that our neighborhood schools are community centers: gathering spots for sporting events, concerts, and plays – but most of all for face-to-face learning that emphasizes student-teacher interaction.
That's why this fiscal crisis, now in its third year, is a test of who we are as Idahoans. Schools have already faced budget cuts of $200 million over the past two years. Idaho parents and business leaders know that at a time like this, our children don’t need gimmicks. They need a solid education that will help them succeed as adults and citizens in the 21st century. In this session, lawmakers must focus like lasers on minimizing further damage – not taking up unnecessary and gimmicky new policy proposals.
Governor Otter said that we spend far less than other states per student. It's true: In the most recent rankings, Idaho placed 50th in the nation when it comes to per-pupil investment. It's important to remember that Idaho students will face another round of significant budget cuts because there's no plan to replace stimulus funds and reserve account money.
It’s one thing to be efficient with taxpayer dollars; it’s another to lag far behind the rest of the nation and the world when it comes to investing in our children’s future. Parents and business owners are asking: What will continued education budget cuts mean for Idaho’s ability to attract and retain quality jobs so our children can make a living in Idaho?
We agree – as Gov. Otter said – that our schools are successful due to our teachers' hard work, especially considering Idaho's long-term disinvestment in education. That's why we are perplexed by Gov. Otter and Mr. Luna's call for radically restructuring a system that's performing so well, especially given the limited resources we're putting into it. And how do these proposals bring the sort of predictability and certainty that Governor Otter champions and that school districts need, just as other businesses do?
Gov. Otter and Mr. Luna spent a lot of time today touting the Idaho Education Network as a new delivery model for education. Technology has an important supplemental role in Idaho’s 21st century classrooms, but online learning cannot begin to take the place of individual, face-to-face attention between good teachers and students. You can't do a hands-on chemistry experiment or dissect a frog online. Parents must beware the bait-and-switch and be sure that cost savings through technology don’t wind up hurting our kids through lost teacher contact time and less individual attention.
Gov. Otter describes Idaho today as a family sitting around a table. For most families, our children's education is a top priority. And for the first time, Idaho's budget writers want to hear from you: the parents of Idaho. Email or call your legislators and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members about how the existing cuts have affected your children. Better yet, come to the Capitol on January 21 to share your stories. Together, we can and must do better for Idaho's children.