Guest Opinions

The not-so-secret war on our public schools

By Terry Gilbert, Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction

Don’t be fooled this election year when you hear candidates talk about “school choice.” It sounds good, but it’s really an all-out attack on our public schools by those who would destroy them for profit, at our children’s expense and the expense of the schools that are the heart and soul of our communities.

As a lifelong educator and candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction, I urge you to keep an eye out for those buzzwords. The issue is critical, and its outcome may be determined by my race.

Proponents of state funding for private schools say parents need more “choice” in education.  The truth is parents have many choices when it comes to education – neighborhood schools, magnet schools, charter schools, innovation schools. But the profiteers want to line their own pockets and slowly starve our public schools to death.

This covert war has been raging for years, but with the rise of extremism and the absence of leadership from our State Department of Education, those who would replace public schools with for-profit schools have started to come out of the woodwork.  Their water-carriers are the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its acolytes in the legislature.  The President of the IFF calls our public schools “grotesque,” and says “The government should not be in the education business.”  One of his loyal followers in the Legislature, Judy Boyle of Midvale, says “Our public schools can use some competition.”

The idea that our public schools are “grotesque” is in itself grotesque; as for “competition,” the only thing that would do would be to weaken and eventually destroy our public schools.

For all of American history, as I taught my students, free public schools have been the foundation of our democracy, and are enshrined in the Constitutions of many states. Idaho’s language reads: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho to establish and maintain a general uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

We can – and will – debate whether the legislature has met its Constitutional mandate, but there is no question that the concept of profit-making schools is anathema to our Constitution and our way of life.

In my 40-plus years of teaching, public education advocacy and mentoring elementary students, I have seen the wisdom of our Constitutional mandate up close and personal.  And I can tell you that it is the very foundation of our society, and our last and best bulwark against authoritarianism and tyranny.

And do not think for a moment that “school choice,” as it is being espoused in my race, is an Idaho idea.  The money comes largely from out-of-state, from the for-profit educational corporations and others who share their agenda.  It is “dark money” in the worst sense of those words.

So don’t be fooled this election year.  And let’s tell those profiteers to go back where they came from.

One Bite at a Time

by Chair Laureen Necochea

The GOP supermajority has been in power for the better part of three decades. They control the House, Senate, and every single constitutional office in Idaho. Still, year after year they fail to implement common sense solutions that will address these problems.

There’s an old joke that goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” Since becoming chair of the Idaho Democratic Party, this adage has come to my mind more than once. The answer? Well, one bite at a time of course.

 

You and I know there are big problems in our state. Idahoans on fixed incomes are being forced out of their houses because of rising property taxes, schools across Idaho must pass supplemental bonds and levies just to keep their lights on, and each and everyday it’s becoming more difficult for working Idaho families to get ahead. The other elephant in the room? The GOP supermajority has been in power for the better part of three decades. They control the House, Senate, and every single constitutional office in Idaho. Still, year after year they fail to implement common sense solutions that will address these problems. 

 

Returning balance to our state and dismantling the GOP supermajority can seem as daunting as eating an elephant. But already, the nineteen Democrats in the House and Senate make a tremendous difference. During the 2022 Legislative Session, a majority of Republicans voted against funding the Department of Public Health, the Supreme Court, full-day kindergarten, affordable workforce housing, the Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the Commission on Aging, Division of Human Resources, the Division of Financial Management, the Attorney General’s Office, child care assistance, the Developmental Disabilities Council, Commission on the Arts, the Domestic Violence Council, the Workforce Development Council, the Office of Species Conservation and more. The only reason the budgets were saved is because every Democrat voted in support of these critical agencies and services.

 

And if we held just two more seats? Democrats could have saved the original library budget that was slashed by $3.5 million in the final moments of the session. 

 

So, that’s how we eat an elephant. Door by door, conversation by conversation, dollar by dollar, and race by race. It’s why we’ve built a year-round organizing program that applies constant pressure in key areas across the state and why we're investing historic resources in campaigns and communities across our great state. 

A message from our new chair:
Laureen Necochea

Sitting on the floor of the Idaho House Representatives, I have a front row seat to the madness. Republicans are literally trying to jail librarians, doctors, women who receive abortion care, and loving parents seeking evidence-based, gender-affirming medical care for their children.

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I am humbled to have been elected chair of the Idaho Democratic Party. My mother taught me early on the fundamental reason to be a Democrat: Democrats care about people.


Sitting on the floor of the Idaho House Representatives, I have a front row seat to the madness. Republicans are literally trying to jail librarians, doctors, women who receive abortion care, and loving parents seeking evidence-based, gender-affirming medical care for their children.They refuse to condemn one of their own when she shows up to a white nationalist meeting. They are trying to make it easier for unscrupulous landlords to cheat renters. And they are doing everything they can to stop people–especially young people–from voting.


That’s what they do out in the open!

 

Behind closed doors, the Kootenai County Republicans plotted to pose as Democrats and run as precinct captains in our party, install an “antisemitic troll” as party chair, and funnel our funds to Republicans. Can you imagine if Democrats posed as Republican candidates to infiltrate the party and install morally reprehensible leadership? We would never do that and not just because the Republicans already did that job.


We have a moral imperative to fight back with everything we’ve got. Our state and her people are too important to let them fall victim to the conspiracy theories, extremism, and hate that has infected the Republican Party. I also want to share the good that’s possible when we elect Democrats. Democrats make a difference! And when we elect more Democrats, we can make more of a difference. On the House floor, I sit next to Rep. Sally Toone, and she has a little notepad where she makes a note every time our caucus made the difference on a vote.


This year so far we’ve saved rental assistance, homeowner’s assistance, a small business credit initiative, the Workplace Housing Fund and more…in spite of a majority of House Republicans voting in opposition to these investments in the people of Idaho.


With more Democrats, we can do more good. Last year, we needed just one more Democrat to save the preschool grant, $6 million a year so that kids could have early learning opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.


Every seat matters in the Legislature. And we need Democrats in every space where decisions are made! All the way down to the precinct level where we organize our neighborhoods. We have momentum, we have great candidates and we have plans. The Idaho Democratic Party is strong. Six months ago, our party hired Raquel, our first staffer dedicated to organizing in the Latino community. Raquel is working her tail off and making fantastic progress, but she needs additional staff under her. We are now doing year-round organizing, talking to voters twelve months a year.


We’re working hard, but we can’t do it alone. It’s up to every Idaho Democrat to take a stand.


If, in the last two years, you volunteered for Democrats or contributed to Idaho Democrats at the candidate, legislative district, county party, or state party level, thank you! This year, we need you to do all of that again, plus recruit 5-200 friends to join you. We need to all dig deeper and work harder to turn this state around. Please consider giving what you can to move our cause forward. 


Together we can turn this state around. 

All Idaho children deserve safe, well-funded school facilities

by Idaho Senator David Nelson

Idaho public schools are the backbone of our local communities. But for many districts, facilities are crumbling due to age and a lack of resources needed to make repairs. This issue is further compounded by Idaho’s extreme population growth in recent years, leading to significant overcrowding in many schools, which can now only be fixed with new construction.

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The Idaho Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations recently found 20% of schools should be retired in the next 10 years, and 53% need significant maintenance or else they will soon fall in that category as well. The estimated cost to bring just the buildings in the 77 districts surveyed up to a “good” condition is at least $847 million. It will take between $1-2 billion for all school districts.

And we still don’t have enough information to really know the extent of the problem. The last statewide facility condition assessment of K-12 public school buildings was in 1993. At the time, districts had a total of almost $700 million in building repairs, additional facilities, or upgrades. When adjusted for inflation to 2020 dollars, that amount is $1.3 billion.

Currently, Idaho is almost last in the U.S. for funding school maintenance. We may be underfunding maintenance and capital investment by as much as $767 million per year due to the antiquated system we use to determine how much to spend.

A 2005 Idaho Supreme Court ruling found the legislature failed to meet its constitutional obligation to sufficiently fund school buildings. That still hasn’t changed. Of all 50 states, Idaho spent the least per student on school buildings at an average of $1,080. The national average was $2,306. The legislature has a yearly responsibility to revisit the formula used to calculate replacement value and revise, if necessary, but hasn’t done so since 2008.

Schools are forced to rely heavily on supplemental levies and bonds to address district needs — mechanisms designed as fallback systems that are now responsible for keeping the lights on. Since 2006, the year school funding shifted to the sales tax, 111 of 120, or 92%, school districts willing to run a bond had an active supplemental levy in place.

Only 40% of bonds — which require two-thirds voter approval — passed in that same time as well. If the voting requirement was lowered to 60%, most would have passed.

Idaho’s negligence isn’t just damaging our schools and communities but our children’s futures, and it presents a serious public safety issue. The legislature needs to address this issue immediately, and I want to see two things happen.

We should create a state bond matching fund that aims to match half of the funding for new construction and remodeling. All of Idaho’s neighboring states, except Nevada, have grant programs that help districts with the building plans and provide capital funding for projects. If we appropriated $100 million yearly to start, we could make a real difference.

We also need to change the bond approval rate from the current two-thirds standard. No neighboring state has that supermajority threshold. We should set it at 60% and consider having a voter turnout threshold added. The Idaho Constitution would need to be amended to do this, which allows all Idahoans to weigh in. This process should start now.

We can’t continue to kick the problem down the road and shirk our constitutional obligation. It is our job to ensure public schools receive adequate and uniform support, so we can best foster the next generation. But if safe facilities don’t exist, that can’t happen. Our educators and children deserve better. It’s beyond time to invest in Idaho schools