Guest Opinion: Lawmakers Are Ignoring Constitutional Mandate to Support Public Schools | Regional News
Mark Twain once told the story of a Missouri community that planned to close its public schools because they were “too expensive.” But then, he said, “an old farmer came up and said if they shut down the schools they wouldn’t save anything because every time a school closed you had to build a prison” .
The moral of the story? “Out of the public schools grows the greatness of a nation,” Twain said.
Idaho’s founding fathers evidently shared Twain’s view, for they enshrined our public schools in Article IX, Section 1 of the Idaho Constitution: “The stability of a republican form of dependent government primarily from the understanding of the people, it shall devolve upon the Idaho Legislature, to establish and maintain a general, uniform, and complete system of public and free common schools.
But today, many lawmakers are undermining the Idaho Constitution by starving our schools, crippling them, or even trying to abolish them. The result is that Idaho ranks last or near the bottom among states in support for public education.
Even the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the legislature violated Article IX, Section 1 of the Constitution by failing to provide adequate funding for public school facilities. But for the past 17 years, Idaho’s elected officials have done nothing about it.
Many lawmakers and special interest groups today are hiding behind the “parents’ choice” or “failing public schools” ruse to push through scholarship bills that would provide funding for taxpayers to private and religious schools. Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation doesn’t even hide his goal of abolishing what he calls “public schools”.
And lawmakers are listening.
House Bill 669 provides tuition fees for private schools and, by extension, religious schools. Another bill, Senate Bill 1255, which received final approval on Wednesday, could lead to vouchers, though under the current State Board of Education the odds “seem remote,” according to the office. of the Attorney General. But we must remember that school boards change under the administration of new governors.
Another sign that lawmakers are ignoring the Constitution’s mandate to support public schools is House Bill 512, which bars school districts from reporting to voters for 11 months if a school facilities bond does not receive two-thirds voter approval. School districts often ask voters to reconsider in months when voting is near, and voters usually oblige.
HB512 adds insult to injury because the state provides little financial support for school facilities, and Idaho is one of the few states that requires a two-thirds majority to build schools. Additionally, the legislature has repeatedly denied impact fees where growth can help pay for new schools. The 11-month restriction will make it even more difficult to build a school.
Meanwhile, a recent study by the Legislature’s Performance Assessment Office found that 60% of principals surveyed said their buildings were in “poor” or only “fair” condition. Yet there has been no discussion in the Legislative Assembly about solving this problem.
In other words, when it comes to public schools, the legislature is like someone who sees a house on fire and pours gasoline on the fire instead of water.
Twain made another astute observation: “Man is the only animal that blushes – or needs it.” If he were here today, we wonder if Twain could also say that many members of the Idaho Legislature have reason to blush because of the way they treat our public schools. Not to mention the Idaho Constitution.
Rod Gramer is the President and CEO of Idaho Business for Education