The Mountain Home School District has just imposed an emergency levy to help it deal with an unexpected influx of more than 100 students this year.
Nobody, including the board of trustees, likes to see taxes go up. But it's less than $2 a month for an average home in the district, which isn't that costly, and it will help keep class sizes to a tolerable level in some of the more crowded schools in the district.
It's too bad this has happened, but all across Idaho districts have had to reach into their bag of tricks to help keep their districts afloat because the Idaho Legislature just can't seem to bring itself to adequately support public education. This is what our lawmakers call local control. Force the districts to adopt fragile emergency levies so the legislature doesn't have to make the tough budget decisions adequate funding would require.
The school system in Idaho wasn't broken until the legislature decided to fix it. But there has been some significant damage since Tom Luna, who prefers home schooling and charter schools over public schools, became the state superintendent of education.
The Mountain Home School District, for example, had developed a series of high quality programs and curriculum that were inspiring students and improving test scores when Tim McMurtrey was curriculum director. About the time he became superintendent, the legislature started slashing funding to public schools or reallocating money to the semi-private charter schools (with their low student-to-teacher ratios) that are so beloved by Luna, and McMurtrey wound up overseeing the dismantling of all those programs he'd created (such as the team-teaching middle school concept).
His story was repeated all over the state as schools had to cut back programs to bare essentials, leaving few "enrichment" programs to help inspire students and prepare them for careers after high school. And as the funding disappeared, fewer teachers were hired and classroom sizes grew.
Yet the biggest factor to achieving quality education is low student-to-teacher ratios. The more one-on-one a teacher can give a student the better chance that student won't struggle as much in school. But two years ago, the state decided to ax 700 teachers state-wide and replace them with laptops. The voters objected and rejected that plan at the polls.
Nevertheless, the state didn't take the money it had planned on spending for laptops and return it to districts to hire back those teachers. Instead, it used the money to buy wi-fi and laptops for some select school districts. It was yet another a slap in the face to the voters by Luna and the Legislature.
The end result of the state's policies over the last five years is to drive school districts to the edge of financial destitution, forcing them to shift the funding burden from the state to the local property taxpayers. And that's why the district didn't have the reserves on hand to handle 100 extra students and was forced to adopt this emergency levy.
The local board is going to catch the flak, but the blame really lies, in the end, with the lack of support for education by the legislature.
-- Kelly Everitt