Friday, August 8, 2008

How far will school district go in documenting student residency?

Local middle-income community workforce housing is like current national energy policy: It doesn't exist to any effective degree.

However, $4-a-gallon gasoline has gotten Americans' attention, and the nation seems intent on figuring out how to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

The question remains as to what will focus the attention of Wood River Valley residents on workforce housing.

Reductions in services and the struggles of business and government to retain qualified employees haven't dented the valley's consciousness. The noticeably small percentage of young people able to live in the valley hasn't either.

But here's a head scratcher.

The newest twist in the workforce-housing debate showed up in the school district last week when the district decided to require proof of residency from all students in Blaine County schools.

After all, students cost the district $16,000 per student annually. It's not fair to local taxpayers, the district argues, to enroll students from outside Blaine County.

Here's the twist: The parents of some of the students in question commute to Blaine County to work. If something happens to their child during the school day, they can reach a local school in minutes, not the hour or more it would take to return to homes in Twin Falls, Richfield, or Shoshone. And, yes, they want the high-quality education for their kids that Blaine County provides.

It's easy to strike a hard—and probably legal—line in the matter. County property taxes pay the bills for local schools.

Yet, a lot of local properties are second homes that send no children to the valley's schools. Others are occupied by businesses that send no children to school.

Nonetheless, second homes and businesses need services provided by commuting workers—who generally cannot afford the high cost of housing in Blaine County.

It could be argued that the education of children of commuting workers is an unfair subsidy to individual businesses or to residents who utilize their services.

On the other hand, it could also be argued that commuting workers are providing an unfair and poorly compensated subsidy for upscale lifestyles.

We wonder how serious the district is about stamping out non-resident students. As commuting parents and employers figure out ways around the prohibition, will the district move from demanding "papers" to instituting "bed checks" to prosecuting locally employed parents who are just trying to do the best for their kids?

It's something to contemplate over a nice Biscotti and latte.

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