The education dialog between Mountain Home Air Force Base and the Mountain Home School District is a great start in what I hope is a step in a positive direction, not just for our students but our community as well.
Too often, we allow ourselves to get so overwhelmed with the pressures of everyday life that we forget to step back, take a deep breath and gain a fresh perspective. And that's what this dialog is all about -- a way to look at our schools to find ways of making them better.
Anyone who remains satisfied with the status quo, especially those critical of our school district, is totally missing the point. With all the challenges in today's globally connected society, there's no room with settling for "good enough."
Let's face it. The workload today's students face is significantly higher than the days before computers.
Kindergarten students are not only learning their ABCs and 123s, they are learning basic words that will allow them to start reading much earlier. We have fifth and sixth graders building robots out of building blocks.
Students today are carrying around telephones with more processing power than all of the computers used to run the U.S. space program back in the 1960s. Just the other day, students at Hacker Middle School attended a science camp where they got to see firsthand the capabilities of 3-D printers, which were unheard of just a decade ago.
Add into that equation the rapid changes in technology, and that challenge gets even tougher. Consider the following: A college freshman taking computer technology classes will graduate knowing that everything they learned four years ago is already obsolete.
In all fairness, we have some schools in this state that provide great education for their students, complete with all the technological "bells and whistles." Of course, these districts tend to fall into the wealthiest parts of Idaho, where they can draw from deep pockets of money.
Rural school districts like Mountain Home, Glenns Ferry and Blackfoot don't have it nearly that easy. The dollars we receive for each child enrolled in our public schools are sometimes half what the wealthier districts can provide.
Unlike Boise, who can approve tax levies without having to gain voter support, we're forced to make do with some very tough choices here. We can either fix the roof of the middle school -- which continues to leak every time it rains by the way -- or we can pay to keep the heat on during the winter, which happened just last year.
Ultimately, the issue of public eduction funding rests with our state representatives. From what I've seen from these lawmakers since I've been with the Mountain Home News, many of them just don't seem to care whether children in rural school districts have a nice school to attend or new textbooks to help them study.
Of course, if something ever happened to these well-to-do districts, I'd wager good money that our lawmakers would immediately spring into action. After all, it never seems to be their problem unless the problem is at their door step.
Here's something they need to chew on when it comes to that last statement. The Department of Defense is planning on another round of base closures within the next two or three years. Earlier this year, in fact, defense officials announced plans to close more than a dozen installations in Europe.
It's the first stage in what we can expect will turn into a huge battle as our Congressmen suddenly jump into high gear to save bases in their home districts or, in the base of places like Idaho, their home state.
When this next round of base closures comes around, you can bet good money that public education is one of the factors that goes into which bases survive the cuts and which don't.
And that brings us right back to where I started. Our state's commitment in funding education is, to put it bluntly, stinks.
I had to laugh the other day when our representatives jumped up and rushed out to defend the A-10s at Gowen Field, which the military is once again trying to mothball. I can't wait to see their reaction if Mountain Home Air Force Base gets a proverbial "black eye" during the base closure process because our lawmakers kept gutting public education in Mountain Home and similar communities.
By then, it'll be too late. All the tests will be graded and turned in, and we won't have a chance to earn any "extra credit." Our report card will not look too favorable unless we do more to support public education.
In all fairness, there are some signs out there that the state leaders are starting to get the message. The budget proposals introduced last month by the governor and state education superintendent are an excellent start.
But that's all it is -- just a start. A lot more work is needed to fix what can only be described as a broken education system. It's a system broken by -- you guessed it -- the same people we voted back into office.
Until the state legislature finally gets with the program, our own community has a chance right now to put into motion a host of new ideas in our own school. It will make Mountain Home's students ready for the future and our community ready to respond when more money for education comes our way.
Our base leaders know firsthand the importance of education. Just to command a military unit in today's Air Force, an officer needs at least a master's degree in addition to their other military and professional education. The same is similar for today's senior enlisted leaders.
These men and women have the ideas and political clout to make this work. We just need to stop pointing fingers at one another -- assessing misguided blame because we feel like it -- and find ways to work together to get behind this effort.
We have nothing to lose by trying. But we have the potential to lose everything if we don't.
-- Brian S. Orban