Anyone with any doubt that Idahos 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 Committees answer: Not much. The
panels conclusion: Crumbling schools are the local school districts problem,
not the states.
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 didnt 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
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.
Thats 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 morein 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.
Idahos 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.