GOP attacks on school levy process mean deep cuts for our students

Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise
Reader Contributor

Most Idaho voters agree that we must invest in strong schools to ensure the next generation’s success. Sadly, the Republican supermajority is preventing our state from meeting this goal in multiple ways. First, Idaho spends less per student on public education than any other state. Second, they sabotage the levies that districts rely on to fill funding gaps. 

Rep. Lauren Necochea. File photo.

Recently, Republican lawmakers eliminated two of the four election dates that school districts use to propose funding measures to voters. This essentially forces school districts to use the May election, when the most hardline conservative voters come out to vote in the closed Republican primary. The hard-right ideological bend of the voters makes critical levies harder to pass. 

Last month’s election played out as GOP leaders hoped. The election that boosted extreme-right Republicans with beliefs far outside the mainstream also meant terrible blows to our students, as five supplemental levies failed. 

In the West Bonner County School District, two of its three elementary schools will shutter, and staff reductions could include more than a dozen teachers and several classified staffers. Without funding for extracurricular activities — including sports — the board must turn to community groups and fundraising to try and save these popular programs. 

The failure of the Plummer-Worley Joint School District supplemental levy means critical building updates and maintenance will be kicked down the road again, and athletics and athletic transportation are on the chopping block. Layoffs, including elementary teachers, a counselor and library staff, will mean crowded classrooms and fewer resources. 

In Kuna, the district will eliminate two dozen jobs, including 12 teachers. The board is considering further reductions, including eliminating career technical programs. 

These heart-wrenching decisions have been thrust upon local leaders by Republican lawmakers who have put schools in precarious situations. They come on top of other shortfalls, causing negative impacts on student learning. With a $4.3 million budget hole, Idaho Falls is laying off teachers and forcing secondary students to take online classes one day a week. 

Under the old statute, schools could have asked voters to reconsider a last-resort levy with an August election right before classes started. The GOP supermajority eliminated that option as well. 

Years ago, I spoke with a Caldwell school administrator who didn’t fret over inadequate state funding because their voters always supported their schools. Indeed, voters had an impeccable record — until now. Last month’s levy failure was the first in 50 years for Caldwell schools.

The school-supporting spirit of the broad electorate cannot always overcome the craftiness of Republican legislators seeking to undermine local school funding. It’s up to voters who care about our schools to elect legislators who will support them this November. Then, we can invest in our children the way they deserve.

Rep. Lauren Necochea is the House assistant Democratic leader, representing District 19 in Boise on the Environment, Energy and Technology; Resources and Conservation; Revenue and Taxation; and Ways and Means committees.

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