Idaho newspapers have published a wave of editorials reacting to the state's 50th-place finish in the recently released Census Bureau rankings of per-pupil investment (for the 2007-2008 school year, the latest figures available).
In the Lewiston Tribune, opinion page editor Marty Trillhaase wrote how Idaho has a long record of stinginess on education spending. “Go back a generation and you'll find the state bouncing along the bottom tier,” he noted. “Its per-pupil spending never ranked better than 47th.”
“Since then, however, some of the states that shared the basement with Idaho decided to improve,” he added, noting:
Mississippi, ranked 51st (of the states and the District of Columbia) in 1992, has increased the amount of money it spends on each student by 135 percent. It's now at 46th place.
Alabama, ranked just below Idaho in 1992, boosted its per-pupil spending by 145 percent. It's now 34th.
Tennessee, ranked 49th nearly two decades ago, spends 110 percent more. It's up to 47th.
Meanwhile, Idaho has only expanded its investment 82 percent in the same time period. “While poor Southern states bettered themselves, Idaho opted to lavish income tax breaks on the wealthy in 2001 and property tax cuts for corporations in 2006,” Trillhaase wrote. “Now you see where the money didn't go.”
Trillhaase allows that Idaho isn't the richest state in the country, but he makes a sound argument that the state could do much, much better. For example, Montana ranks 28th nationally in per-pupil investment, despite a median family income 7.5 percent lower than Idaho's.
“Idaho isn't that poor,” he concludes. “It's just cheap.”
The Tribune is behind a paywall, but the Idaho Statesman reprinted the full editorial here. The Statesman also excerpted an editorial from The Times-News in Twin Falls, which wrote, “Even before the Legislature mandated a 7.5 percent decrease in funding for public schools, Idaho was sitting in the cheap seats. … Education has a direct impact on economic development, not the least because it tells companies looking to relocate what a state's priorities are. And when it comes to education, Idaho's priorities are clearly open to question.”
(Updated Monday, July 26)