By Luke Mayville,
Reclaim Idaho co-founder
Special to the Reader
For the next 40 days, Idahoans across the state will do something they’ve never done before: Add their electronic signatures to a citizen ballot initiative. Due to COVID-19, volunteers with the grassroots organization Reclaim Idaho have taken to the internet to collect thousands of e-signatures.
Here’s the backstory. The “Invest in Idaho” K-12 initiative would invest about $170 million per year in K-12 education by modestly increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Up until March of this year, when Gov. Brad Little declared a state of emergency, volunteers including myself worked diligently all across the state to collect tens of thousands of signatures. When the virus outbreak intensified, we were forced to suspend our signature drive.
But then, after our campaign filed a lawsuit in federal court, a judge ruled that the governor and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney violated our constitutional rights by not providing a safe way for us to collect signatures during a pandemic. The court ordered the state of Idaho to allow us to collect electronic signatures in support of our initiative. We now have just over 40 days to collect at least 30,000 signatures online.
In light of recent events, it’s more important now than ever to put our initiative on the ballot and give voters a chance to invest in our schools.
Just last week, Gov. Little ordered $99 million in cuts to K-12 education. This includes a freeze on critically needed raises for teachers.
On the same day, the Idaho Statesman reported that Idaho once again ranks dead last out of 50 states in K-12 spending per student.
Some will deny this is a serious problem. They’ll insist that when it comes to education, “money isn’t what matters.” But experience and common sense tell us that money does matter.
Last year, the annual report of the Rural School and Community Trust found that the amount Idaho spends per student in rural communities has gone down by $200 over the past three years, while the average amount spent on rural students in other states has increased by $300 per student. Our failure to invest in rural students appears to have a direct impact on student learning.
As the report states: “Idaho is in an urgent situation in terms of educational outcomes, ranking among the lowest 10 states on three of our five indicators.”
When our schools don’t get the funding they need, our kids lose access to strong programs in everything from arts and music to agricultural science and welding — the types of courses that give our students a chance to make a living when they graduate.
When we fail to fund our schools, we deny our kids access to qualified, experienced teachers. After all, why would we expect teachers to remain in the classroom when they can leave the state — or leave the profession altogether — and find a job that will pay them competitively?
Money isn’t everything, but money makes a difference. A big difference. The vast majority of Idahoans understand this, which is why they say in survey after survey that they want to increase funding for K-12 education.
Yet, those in power are now enacting some of the deepest cuts to K-12 education that Idaho has seen in decades. They do so while insisting that there’s no alternative. There’s simply no money left to invest, they say, and so the next generation of Idaho kids will need to “tighten their belts.”
What if we, the people of Idaho, insisted that there is an alternative? What if, instead of making deep cuts to education, we simply restore the tax rate on corporations to what it was a few decades ago?
The truth that many of our lawmakers will not admit is that middle-income Idahoans pay a larger share of their income in taxes than the richest Idahoans do. What if we level the playing field and call on those making more than $250,000 per year to pay a little more?
This is exactly what our Invest in Idaho initiative does: It increases funding for education by $170 million annually, with no new taxes on property and no new taxes on anyone making less than $250,000 per year.
It’s time to give the people of Idaho a chance to do what our leaders have refused to do: Save our schools from deep budget cuts and invest in a better future for our children.
Please visit reclaimidaho.org today, sign the online petition and help us put K-12 funding on the November ballot.
Luke Mayville is co-founder of Reclaim Idaho. A Sandpoint High School graduate, with a Ph.D. in political science from Yale University, he is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University in New York.
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