While the possible repeal of the personal property tax has drawn much of the publicity of this legislative session, hidden in the shadows has been the continuing effort to wreck the state's public school system.
To be honest, the education system really wasn't broken until the legislature decided to fix it. Since then, we've seen nothing but funding cuts, teachers losing their jobs all across the state, and, worst of all, the rise in student-teacher ratios in classrooms.
Nothing has more of an impact on education than keeping the number of students a teacher has to work with down to a manageable number (20 students or less per teacher is an admirable goal to shoot for, and at the elementary level, was at one time in the '90s actually achieved in some schools by the Mountain Home School District). Low student-to-teacher ratios are probably the main reason why charter schools, those functionally private schools supported by public tax dollars, usually do so well (that, and the ability to pick and choose what students they'll accept in their classrooms).
But even with the economy starting to turn around, the legislature is not seriously looking at raising funding for more teachers.
In fact, way too many of the bills introduced so far have been thinly disguised efforts to repeat the legislation rejected by the voters just last fall (pay for performance, for example, a program that can't possibly be fair once you get into its details).
If you look at the total package of legislation being proposed as of Friday, and add it to the package of the last few years, the only conclusion you can draw is that legislators don't like teachers very much (perhaps for failing them in American Government or making them repeat third grade).
Teachers are obviously peons to be used, but not respected. No matter how much our legislators may (but only sometimes) talk a different story, that's the walk they're actually taking.
There's even an effort, solely to save money, to push experienced teachers to retire as soon as possible, so their ranks can be filled with younger, cheaper "rookies." Well-trained, experienced teachers are apparently not wanted in Idaho.
Teachers don't expect to get rich, although the latest plan does give some small raises for the first time in years to experienced teachers, and also slightly increases starting salaries to $31,000 a year. But if teachers aren't in it for the money, they do expect decent working conditions. Buildings that are crumbling around overcrowded classrooms aren't part of that equation.
Ask your legislator how many additional teachers your school district is going to be able to hire as a result of their votes on education. Pin them down on that number. They should know it and it's important.
Don't let them dance around with generalities about the poor economy. The economy isn't great, but it's better than it was. That should translate into revenue for more teachers.
Anything less than that is nothing less than an attack on public education.
-- Kelly Everitt