State Superintendent Tom Luna offered little new information in an encore budget presentation to the House Education Committee today, but he dodged a question about the school levy requests that many Idaho voters will be asked to approve this spring.
Luna has presided over three years of budget cuts to Idaho’s public schools, and he is the architect of the 2011 reforms that have already increased class sizes and eliminated education jobs. His policies – coupled with the Legislature’s 2006 decision to destabilize school funding – are key reasons why school districts have increasingly had to run supplemental levies to keep the doors open.
Yet today, in response to a question from Rep. Brian Cronin (D-Boise) about his recent statement to the Idaho Statesman that he’d rather see districts hold the line on taxes, Luna said the only levy he has a say in is the one in Nampa, where he lives. He pointed to a still-fragile economic recovery as a rationale and said districts need to be transparent in talking about how they will use funds.
But speaking of a fragile economy, Luna must know that school districts are the top employers in close to half of all Idaho counties. In Ada County, the Meridian and Boise districts (both seeking levies March 13) are both among the top 5 largest employers in the state’s most populous county. In Canyon County, where Luna lives, school districts hold three of the top five slots. Strong schools are essential to our children’s future success and they are powerful economic drivers for their communities. If school levies fail this spring, it will mean hundreds of lost jobs and a significantly worse business climate.
What might that mean for Idaho’s still-fragile recovery, and what is the superintendent’s role in why districts must run so many levies? Just as he cautioned districts to be transparent, so too must the superintendent. Districts have received one-time federal money over the past few years to help prop up budgets, but that money is going away and the state is not replacing it. Districts must turn to voters to replace lost state and federal funds. Politicians have not raised Idahoans’ taxes; they’ve chosen to pass that task to voters.
In other news today:
The House Education Committee passed HJM008, a memorial sponsored by Rep. Linden Bateman (R-Idaho Falls) requesting that Congress repeal No Child Left Behind. Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr testified in support of the memorial, though she reiterated the IEA’s support for the original ideas behind the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The House State Affairs Committee considered a bill introduced by Rep. Erik Simpson (R- Idaho Falls) that would require school coaches and athletic officials to remove young athletes from play if they show signs of a concussion.
REMINDER: The Senate Education Committee will hear S1297, a bill to limit classified employees’ grievance rights, at its meeting at 3 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, February 15) in Room WW55.