Better wages and benefits for all educators. Stronger mental health services on public school campuses. Overdue investment in Idaho’s worn-out public school facilities.
The table is set for these key education priorities after Sept. 1’s special session of the Idaho Legislature and lawmakers’ record $330 million increase in new ongoing funding for K-12 education.
“Lawmakers took a bold and very welcome first step away from Idaho’s chronic underfunding of public schools,” said IEA President Layne McInelly. “Our members want to use the momentum of this important achievement to create maximum positive impact on students and classrooms.”
The first priority must be an improvement in the wages and benefits of certified and classified educators, McInelly said. Having a certified professional educator in the classroom is a primary indicator of student success. Yet, Idaho school districts faced more than 700 job vacancies leading into the 2022-23 school year, according the Idaho State Board of Education, and districts continue to struggle to fill key roles.
“Too many of our colleagues have been forced out of this noble profession in recent years. This is a potential crisis for our students and state. It must be reversed,” McInelly said. “For too long, policymakers have relied on the dedication and good will of educators to keep them in their jobs — rather than paying them what they are worth. This winter lawmakers have a golden opportunity to show all educators how much they value their essential contributions to the students and families of Idaho.”
Another top priority for IEA members when lawmakers convene this winter is investment in on-campus mental health resources for students.
“More than at any time in recent memory, students are in crisis and need mental health support to ensure their vitality and academic success,” said Matt Compton, IEA’s associate executive director. “There is broad support among voters, education stakeholders and across the political spectrum for stronger investment in counselors, social workers and others who can support student mental health.”
IEA members also support stronger state investment in public school facilities. Each year, Idaho school districts ask voters to approve hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds and special levies to pay for needed facilities and other basic operational expenses.
“If voters don’t approve these measures, district administrators are often forced into difficult budget decisions that can short-change students and educators,” McInelly said. “By properly funding public schools, policymakers give administrators more flexibility and freedom to make strategic investments that make positive impacts in the classroom.”