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For the week of September 20 through 26, 2000

Surplus should nourish education

No group in recent years has endured more political whipping boy abuse and derision than America’s public school teachers, condemned by their critics as ill-prepared liberal social engineers who’re labor unionists at heart or worse.

And to properly put teachers in their place, politicians in state legislatures across the land have ladled out just enough from the public purse to keep public education alive, but not much more.

A fine way to punish teachers. The real victims have been students and schools.

The consequences are shameful. Base pay for teachers still is less in some states than unskilled manual labor. Many classrooms and buildings are in shameful condition. And teachers are driven to dig into their own bank accounts to buy supplies for students and classroom projects.

Idaho now has a chance to demonstrate that it aspires to excellence in public education, rather than tolerating its public schools to wallow in the ranks of the nation’s mediocre or worse.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and the state Legislature are pondering how to dispense a projected surplus of $250 million.

Should there be any doubt where a substantial chunk should go?

Something of a breakthrough in political thinking comes from state Sen. Darrel Deide of Caldwell, who wants legislators to budget $30 million for Idaho school districts to reduce debt and build schools, thus easing burdens on district taxpayers.

Whether $30 million is adequate still needs to be decided.

But this is a complete change of heart for Sen. Deide, who has consistently opposed direct state funding for school district construction, and an indication that new attitudes are taking shape to aid public education.

Make no mistake. Throwing money at schools is no guarantee that student learning will automatically improve.

Ideal public schools are the product of three principal groups--parents, educators and lawmakers.

Parents must shift some of the burden from teachers and back to the home, where homework and a code of discipline must be enforced.

For its part, the education profession must recognize the importance of shoring up its own responsibilities. High on that list is professional accountability: Teachers whose performance lags behind expectations have no place in a state school system whose sights are set on higher achievement.

As for the political community, it must be more realistic in its budgeting for education, and abandon browbeating of schools on whose shoulders society has unloaded inordinate responsibilities for the daytime care and education of its children in settings made more difficult by inadequate resources.


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