Public funds for public education, that was always given. Some legislators want to use those funds for private schools. We shouldn’t be surprised. The move toward vouchers has been promoted for years, most of the time they fail, here’s why.
Early education in our country was considered “haphazard.” White children were taught in church schools, local schools organized by parents, tuition-based schools taught by traveling school masters, charity schools, boarding schools, home schools, schools run by women and work apprenticeship programs. There were very few schools for Black children. The curriculum across the country was highly inconsistent and disorganized at best.
The Founding Fathers realized there was a need to educate the electorate to preserve our democracy. They wanted students to learn more than the three Rs. They thought students needed to learn to protect their freedoms, to understand civics education, political and social issues and to vote wisely. Achieving their goal would require a more systematic approach to education. Not long after the revolutionary war, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams proposed the creation of unified, organized public schools. This idea was so crucial that substantial land grants were given to new states entering the union. Funds from some of the land were used for the construction and maintenance of schools. This action was considered paramount to creating and strengthening new communities. It helped build the country.
The group of Idaho politicians promoting vouchers is tied to national corporate groups; if you are wondering why, corporate schools could be a huge profit for businesses. (If you think this is a good idea, remember that corporate medicine in the U.S. is the most expensive of any industrialized nation with the poorest health outcomes.) No one is stepping up to open large groups of schools at this point. Where does that leave us? With the exact same mess our Founding Fathers worried about, a few schools run by this company, a few more by another, a few by this church, etc. All kinds of schools run by all kinds of businesses and faiths with varying agendas. Doesn’t this leave us with the jumbled mess the Founding Fathers hoped to avoid?
In 2005, the Idaho Supreme Court found that the Legislature failed at its Constitutional responsibility to provide for public education.
In 2006, the Legislature passed a new funding program, proposed by former Gov. Jim Risch.
It shorted education funding all over the state. From 2006 to 2020, that shortfall was $1 billion. School districts had to hold levies to raise the funds they needed to function.
(These details are in the Legislative Oversight Committee’s Minutes for January 2022.) To be clear, action at the state level caused the shortfall. To date, schools are functioning at less than 2006 budget levels and must contend with a levy pass rate of only 41% statewide. Why so few?
Because most citizens have no idea education funding has been shorted for 18 years.
Chris Cargill of Mountain States Policy Center wants you to believe that using taxpayer dollars for private schools will not impact the funds headed to public schools. How can that be so? The estimate now is that vouchers will take $19.4 million from the total education budget the first year for health savings accounts.
Consider Ohio, whose property taxes increased by $1.9 billion after passing vouchers. In Arizona, estimated costs for private vouchers will probably reach an additional $700 million this year and still have to pay for public schools for most students. Do you want to pay for private schools and public schools, too?
Right now, a full third of Idaho schools need major repairs or outright replacement, can we really afford to lose $19.4 million to private schools?
The fight for full educational funding has been an issue for years.
We wouldn’t have the recommended increase by Gov. Little if not for the citizens initiative from Reclaim Idaho. That initiative proved Idaho voters want to invest in schools. Idahoans expected to see an increase in educational funding to help school districts begin to address a decades long short fall.
Meanwhile, corporations are providing the Legislators with reelection funds if they support “vouchers” for private schools (Idaho Capital Sun). If you were relying on public education to help your children go to college, public school funds may start shrinking this year.
If you are unhappy with the “Education Savings” or “voucher” programs, please contact your state legislators. Please make sure public money stays in public schools.
By BARBARA OSTIPWKO Guest Opinion