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For the week of Nov. 10, 1999 through Nov. 16, 1999

Ed panel deserves failing grade


Anyone with any doubt that Idaho’s system of public education has failed need only look at the recommendations of a panel of state leaders charged with figuring out what the state should do about aging schools.

The Statewide School Facilities Committee’s answer: Not much. The panel’s conclusion: Crumbling schools are the local school districts’ problem, not the state’s.

The panel refused to recommend reduction of the two-thirds majority required for approval of school facilities bond issues by local voters. The fact that Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is squarely behind the reduction didn’t help the idea.

The panel came down squarely in favor of the status quo and minority rule. Under present law, a single vote against a school bond issue has nearly the same power as two votes in favor. That makes passage of school bonds extremely difficult.

Nonetheless, the panel offered no sympathy for financially strapped school districts. It refused to recommend that the state pick up the tab for construction of new schools in order to insure "equal education" as mandated by the Idaho Constitution.

It endorsed local control, which leaves the districts on the hook for paying the whole bill for new schools. It saw no problem with rich districts feasting while poor districts starve.

The single crumb offered by the panel was a desperation levy. The panel recommended the Legislature re-visit proposals, which failed last year, to give school boards authority to levy taxes to take care of health and safety hazards in schools after all other measures have been exhausted.

That’s like recommending that school boards be given all the old newspapers they need to fill the wall cracks to block out winter winds.

The panel deserves a failing grade.

Its recommendations do nothing to help meet the need for somewhere between $274 million and $700 million in repairs and replacements of Idaho schools. They do nothing to bridge the gap between rich and poor, rural and urban school districts. They do nothing but beg the question and leave a lot of Idaho kids in crumbling classrooms.

If all goes well, the best poor districts may hope for now is that Idaho and state leaders will fail once more—in a court test. Several school districts sued the state alleging that it ignored its constitutional duty to provide for equal education in the state. The case is due to be heard in a district court next spring.

Idaho’s kids can only hope that the districts’ lawyers and the judge can muster a passing grade by forcing the state to care for its schools and protect the safety of its kids.

 

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