I needed to start this week's editorial by venting off some of the frustration I've had to deal with lately. The Iowa Caucus arrived on Monday, and to be honest, I'm so burned out from the constant barrage of candidate speeches and "breaking" political news that I just want to stop caring at this point.
For months, I've watched the spectacle unfold and honestly wondered if the United States had simply lost its mind on who we think should lead this country.
None of the candidates -- absolutely none of them -- have me excited one bit. I'm also getting tired of the "rock star" treatment some are receiving while others are being singled out each time they make a minor gaff during a speech.
I really wish we could go back in time and start everything over with a completely different list of candidates. Maybe we could find someone with a shed of humility who is willing to apologize when they've done something wrong.
At the same time, maybe we could find one or two candidates willing to do the one thing none of the presidential hopefuls have shown any willingness to support -- the ability to work with lawmakers from both sides of the political fence to find lasting solutions that continue to plague our country. I think all Americans deserve at least that much.
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While the seemingly non-stop coverage of the Iowa Caucus filled the headlines of every news program I checked over the weekend, I stumbled across a completely different story that I felt deserved a lot more attention.
Last week, state superintendent of public instruction Sherri Ybarra unveiled a proposed education budget that puts attention on what matters the most -- preparing our children for the challenges of the future. The $1.5 billion budget proposal restores discretionary funding back to pre-recession levels for Mountain Home and the other 114 districts across the state.
It's something we've needed for a very long time.
That $100 million boost -- a 7.5 percent hike -- couldn't come at a more critical time with regards to public education. Let's face it. Our children are being asked to do a whole lot more than previous generations, and we need to invest the needed time, energy and resources to ensure they succeed.
Among the items in the state education budget are $15 million for new technology in the classrooms. This makes perfect sense. After all, how many classrooms do you walk into these days that doesn't have at least several computer workstations lined up along a wall?
I also saw that the proposed budget includes $1.75 million for career counselors -- another must-have budget item. If funded, it would ensure more students successfully complete high school and turn around the state's low graduation rates.
Currently, that number hovers around 77 percent, meaning about one in every five high school students won't graduate. That's a trend this state desperately needs to turn around, especially if we ever want to bring in all the high-tech companies and corporations that Idaho seems so desperate to attract.
Ybarra also wants to devote $1.76 million for 12 new math coaches to ensure districts around the state are following Common Core standards. However, having looked through the math books the students in our district are currently using, I'm wondering if we needed to hire more of these coaches -- a lot more.
I've looked at these math books, and even I struggled trying to understand the logic behind them. Case in point: Three years ago, I spent every evening helping my daughter with her geometry homework, and I spent countless hours going through her textbook, which I was told was geared for a high school sophomore.
Looking back, I'm convinced that book was geared for a college student instead or someone majoring in quantum mechanics. That assessment comes from someone who was pretty good at algebra and geometry during his years in high school, but then, I digress.
Our teachers here and in districts across Idaho are also looking at seeing a boost in pay if the state education budget gets approved. While it's a modest bump of about $1,200 per year for a brand-new teacher, approving that budget request would show that the state genuinely cares for its teachers.
And that's just the beginning. The state education budget would add another $1.3 million to fund professional development for our educators along with revised teaching standards. It'll help our schools keep pace with all the changes that continue to reshape their classrooms.
While I'm probably being a bit premature and perhaps a little too optimistic, I'm hoping the changes to the state education budget will yield even more benefits down the road. Maybe we'll have a chance to bring back some of the programs that made our local school district so great.
It was just a few short years ago that we had wood shop classes in the high school along with an award-winning video production program that provided a career possibilities for a number of students. These programs showed our students that you didn't necessarily need to go to a four-year college to have a successful career.
Ybarra gave our state lawmakers a very thorough budget proposal that shoots for the stars but is willing to settle for the Moon if necessary. Let's hope our lawmakers agree as well.
-- Brian S. Orban