No group in recent years has endured more political whipping boy abuse and
derision than Americas public school teachers, condemned by their critics as
ill-prepared liberal social engineers whore 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
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
nations 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.