On March 15, public education advocates in Coeur d’Alene awoke to devastating news.
The school district’s two school levies on the previous day’s ballot failed to get local voter approval, putting 25% of the school district’s budget, programs like art, music and athletics, and hundreds of educator jobs in eminent danger.
Since then, members of the Coeur d’Alene Education Association (CEA) have rallied to a second campaign for the levies — another vote on the measures is set for May 16 — and to counter the growing influence of far right extremists who played a pivotal role in the March 14 vote.
“This truly is a huge organizing issue for our local,” said CEA President Aaron Hayes. “We’ve been building stronger relationships with members and other educators, parents, the community and members of the school district administration.”
While the stakes for public education are high in Coeur d’Alene, at least 11 districts across the state are looking to the May 16 vote after losses at the ballot box earlier this year. In all, districts across Idaho asked their local voters to approve more than $1 billion in bonds and levies on March 14 but were successful in securing only $274.59 million in funding. Coeur d’Alene’s North Idaho neighbor, Lakeland, faces a similarly gloomy prospect for draconian cuts if its levy fails next month.
For many districts, the levies they regularly seek from voters are not supplemental to properly-funded budgets, as they are supposed to be. Instead, the State of Idaho’s refusal to properly fund public education makes bonds and levies an unfortunate, but necessary part of funding their basic operations. Those able to pass them can invest in students, classrooms and educators. Those that cannot are forced into budget cuts.
“Idaho’s chronic underfunding of public education creates in unequal public school system of have and have-not districts,” said Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly. “When schools are forced rely to on levies and bonds for basic fundamental expenses like salaries and facilities, it highlights just how broken Idaho’s education funding is.”
In Coeur d’Alene, Hayes, CEA members, and the community’s pro-public education allies are in lock-step. CEA members are closely allied with a pro-education community group, the “Yes” campaign, and are knocking on doors, manning phone banks, doing literature drops and using campaign texting tools to drive the pro-public schools vote next month.
CEA is engaging more members around the issue through a levy “roadshow” — visiting schools to talk with members and potential members about the levy and the need to vote. But Hayes said educating the community about possible dismemberment of their local public schools is at the forefront of the campaign.
“Seventy percent of the registered voters didn’t vote in the March levy election,” Hayes said. “So, it’s not just about turning out teachers to vote. We really must have parents, community members and teachers voting.”
The difference in engagement between the run-up to the March vote and now is significant, Hayes said. And the relationships being established will serve the association and its members well, no matter what happens May 16.
“We’ve got a lot more resources and we’re going to talk to a lot more people,” Hayes said. “Our work with the campaign and educators’ engagement is something worthy of building on.”